Friday, September 17, 2021

Belarusian sprinter who fears for her safety has been offered asylum in Poland

TOKYO — Belarusian Olympic sprinter Kristina Timanovskaya, who sought security at Tokyo airport after her nation tried to forcibly send her home from the Summer Games, has been offered asylum in Poland.

Ms Timanovskaya, 24, entered the Polish embassy in Tokyo on Monday and flew to Warsaw on Wednesday, according to Alexander Opeikin, executive director of the Belarusian Sports Solidarity Fund, a group that opposes the Belarusian government.

Poland’s Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Prezidze, confirmed on twitter that Ms. Timanovskaya had received a humanitarian visa.

Ms Timanovskaya had said she feared for her safety in Belarus as she criticized her coaches and the country’s national committee for registering her for a relay event for which she had not trained.

She was originally scheduled to run the 200-meter heat one of her regular races on Monday, but instead spent the day looking for a new country in which to settle.

“She’s fine. She’s a little disappointed, because she wanted to continue in the Olympic Games,” Mr. Opekkin, who has been in contact with Ms. Timanovskaya since Sunday’s events, said by telephone.

“She’s disappointed that she couldn’t compete in the 200m today, but she understands the whole situation, she understands her rights, she understands the deep violation of her rights as an athlete,” he said. “He has to tell the whole world about this situation.”

The offer of refuge captured nearly 24 hours of play at the Olympics, where Ms. Timanovskaya finished fourth in her heat in the 100 meters on Friday. She then said on Instagram that her coaches informed her at the last minute that she would have to run the 4x400m relay in place of a team member who had not passed enough antidoping tests to qualify for the event.

Although her criticism was about athletic decisions, Timnovskaya had good reason to fear she would be perceived as a political dissident in Belarus.

The president of the country’s National Olympic Committee is the eldest son of Alexander G. Lukashenko, a strong leader who has held power in Belarus for 27 years. He has long sought to quell any dissent, including brutal crackdown after a disputed presidential election a year ago.

Mr. Lukashenko is not afraid to take drastic measures on the international stage. In May, Belarusian authorities forced a Ryanair plane flying from Athens to Vilnius, Lithuania, to be carrying Roman Protasevich, blogger of a website helping anti-government protesters last year.

Even before Ms. Timanovskaya’s case, Belarus had a complicated relationship with the International Olympic Committee. In December, the committee barred Mr. Lukashenko and his son from participating in the Tokyo Games. A group of athletes said they had been subjected to political discrimination and imprisonment for speaking out against the government.

The IOC allowed the country to send a 103-member team to the Games as it said it did not want to punish innocent athletes.

At a news conference on Monday morning, IOC spokesman Mark Adams said earlier that Ms Timanovskaya had only gone to the airport with other athletes who had finished their competitions.

But when asked about the fact that he was taken to the airport even though he had not finished his competitions, he said the IOC was waiting for the Belarusian National Olympic Committee’s report.

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Meanwhile, he said, journalists “have to obey me for it” that Ms Timnovskaya was being protected. Mr Adams said he had spoken with Tokyo police as well as officials from the agency of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Tokyo organizing committee spokeswoman Masa Takaya said Ms Timanovskaya spent Sunday night at a hotel near Haneda Airport in Tokyo. A Haneda police spokesman said the department would not speak to foreign journalists.

After posting her complaints on Instagram, Ms. Timanovskaya accused the Belarusian Olympic Committee of kidnapping her from the Olympic Village and taking her to the airport.

Belarusian journalists at the Games said they were told that Ms. Timanovskaya missed a bus to take her to the airport along with other athletes who had completed their programs. They said he was taken to Haneda airport in a separate car, which also had a coach.

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The Belarusian committee said it had withdrawn him from the Games because of his “emotional and psychological state”.

But in a complaint filed with the Olympic Sports Court by the Belarusian Sports Solidarity Fund, her supporters said they had a copy of an audio recording in which members of the coaching staff told Ms. Timanovskaya that she was being withdrawn from the Games because his Instagram post.

The complaint said the video presented evidence that the official explanation on the part of the Belarusian delegation was “fake” and violated its rights under the IOC’s charter to participate in the Games.

“As a result, it is a case of pure discrimination against Ms. Timanovskaya for “political reasons”, the complaint said.

The incident happened on Sunday night at Haneda airport. Track and field officials were stunned when they first heard about Ms. Timanovskaya’s announcement through news media reports.

Sebastian Coe, the president of the governing body known as World Athletics, managed to wake up the senior most official responsible for Belarus’ track delegation, who were in Sapporo before the marathon.

According to people familiar with the matter, the official told Mr Coe that Belarusian officials said that Ms Timanovskaya had decided to leave the Olympics voluntarily after she was told she would have to run the 4x400m relay on top of her usual events .

At the airport on Sunday night, Koichi Kodama, a Japanese lawyer specializing in refugee cases, said he had heard from a group of lawyers that one had tried to meet with Ms. Timanovskaya at the airport, but police had called her. was denied entry. Taiga Ishikawa, a member of the Japanese parliament and general secretary of its refugee committee, also tried to meet Ms. Timanovskaya, but she could not see him.

It turned out that Ms. Timnovskaya had other options. Prime Minister of Slovenia on Twitter, I know, said Ms. Timanovskaya was “welcome” to her country. Jacob Kulhanek, The Czech Foreign MinisterSaid that his country is also ready to help. Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said her country had also offered Ms. Timanovskaya a house.

makiko inoue And hisako uno Contributed reporting from Tokyo. Tomas Dapkus contributed reporting from Vilnius, Lithuania.

Belarusian sprinter who fears for her safety has been offered asylum in Poland
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