(ATR) Leaders of a movement of prominent Belarus athletes face prison terms under charges arising out of a campaign to promote healthy habits, like not smoking.
According to an April 24 letter from the Belarus Sport Solidarity Foundation, the government is pursuing criminal cases against Aliaksandra Herasimenia, BSSF chair and executive director Aliaksandr Apeikin. The charges could bring five years in prison says the letter.
The BSSF was formed in 2020 in the uprising of protests in Belarus over the results of the election that reelected Alexander Lukashenko, the only president since the post-Soviet era began in 1994. The vote has been assailed as rife with fraud and corruption. Athletes were among the multitudes who took to the streets of Minsk and other cities rejecting the vote. Some were arrested while the threat of banishment from state support was also used against dissident athletes.
Lukashenko, besides leading Belarus, was at the time also the unchallenged president of the NOC, through which support to athletes flows.
The uproar over the elections and ensuing political crisis led to the cancellation of major events such as the IIHF World Championships in May. The tournament will be played in Latvia instead.
The government alleges that the BSSF put pressure on sports organizations via the media and internet.The government claims "significant image and financial damage was inflicted, the country's prestige at the international and political arena was undermined, the leadership of the sports industry and the state was discredited."
In February, Lukashenko stepped down from the presidency of the NOC. His son Viktor was elected in his place.
The IOC has refused to accept the NOC election and has banned Lukashenko and other Belarus officials from credentials for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. Funds for athlete training from the IOC to the Belarus NOC have also been suspended.
In this latest legal episode for the BSSF, the letter from the group says searches have been carried out at their homes and those of other BSSF leaders. Herasimenia and Apeikin are said to be on "a wanted list".
"Taking into account all stated above, we respectfully ask your organisation to express solidarity with the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation by making a public statement or posting it in your social media," goes the call from the foundation.
The letter under Apeikin’s signature asks for support by the IOC and other groups "to raise the issue of the BSSF members illegal criminal prosecution with the international sport community, including the International Olympic Committee".
"Launch of socially important projects aimed at sports development, protection of athletes’ rights, promotion of the Olympic values and healthy lifestyle shall not result in opening criminal cases against its organizers," the letter concludes.
Reported by Ed Hula.