Athlete Tsimanouskaya, trying to escape Belarus, left Tokyo for Vienna

Belarusian Olympic sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, in conflict with her country’s sports authorities, left Tokyo-Narita airport for Vienna on Wednesday, August 4, a stopover most likely before reaching Poland, which granted her a humanitarian visa .

It was initially assumed that the 24-year-old athlete would take a direct flight from Tokyo to Warsaw on Wednesday operated by Polish company LOT. But she changed her route at the last minute, boarding an Austrian Airlines plane for Vienna, AFP observed at the airport.

A secret departure

She made no statement to the press before her departure, which came shortly after 11 a.m. local time. The sprinter had claimed on Sunday to have escaped forced repatriation to Belarus, a few days after having openly criticized the athletics federation of her country on the occasion of the Tokyo Olympics.

She had been confined since Monday at the Polish embassy in Tokyo, without speaking to the media. She had left the embassy early on Wednesday in a car with tinted windows, so it was not possible to identify her with certainty. For security reasons, the Polish authorities did not wish to give any information in advance about his departure from Tokyo.

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Representatives of the Belarusian Foundation for Sports Solidarity (BSSF), an organization supporting athletes in the crosshairs of power in Minsk, expected to welcome Krystsina Tsimanouskaya upon his arrival in Warsaw, as well as other Belarusian pro-democracy activists.

His federation wanted to force him to participate in an event

According to the athlete, her national federation wanted to force her at the last moment to participate in the 4×400-meter relay at the Tokyo Games, when she was initially supposed to run the 100 meters and 200 meters, a decision that had outraged her.

Fearing that she would end up in prison if she returned to Belarus, Krystsina Tsimanouskaya had obtained Sunday evening help from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and police protection while she was at Tokyo-Haneda airport, on the verge of to be repatriated.

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The IOC has initiated an official investigation into this matter. Spokesman Mark Adams said on Wednesday that the IOC had received a report from the Belarusian Olympic Committee which is ” being evaluated “. The IOC has opened a disciplinary commission “To establish the facts”, he added.

Exiled Belarusian activist found dead

This incident sparked international reactions condemning Belarus, a former Soviet republic ruled with an iron fist by President Alexander Lukashenko since 1994 and whose son is the head of the National Olympic Committee.

The pro-democracy movement in Belarus, which had become massive a year ago, is severely repressed by the authorities. Thousands of opponents have been arrested or had to go into exile.

Vitali Chychov, a Belarusian pro-democracy activist exiled in Ukraine, was found hanged near his home in Kiev, local police said on Tuesday, according to which it could be a “Murder camouflaged as suicide”. In May, Belarusian authorities arrested exiled opposition journalist Roman Protassevich after hijacking the airliner he was on, sparking global outcry.

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“The Lukashenko regime tried to commit a new act of transnational repression […]. Such actions violate the Olympic spirit, are an affront to fundamental rights and cannot be tolerated ”, reacted earlier this week the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Alexander Lukashenko has also been accused in the past of having formed “Death squads” to eliminate opponents. “The regime of Alexander Lukashenko is known to use various methods, often totally illegal (against its detractors), which is why it is best to provide as few details as possible” on the departure of Krystsina Tsimanouskaya from Tokyo, justified Tuesday the Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said he spoke to the sprinter. “Poland will continue to actively support the entire Belarusian nation, and the persecuted opposition activists”, he wrote on Facebook.

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