Former Presidential Candidate, Claiming Abuse, Flees Belarus


MOSCOW — For two months Ales Mikhalevich, an opposition presidential candidate in Belarus, sat in prison after protesting the results of the December election as blatantly rigged. He said he had been tortured and then released only on the condition that he collaborate with the security service.

On Monday Mr. Mikhalevich, fearing that he would be jailed again, announced that he had fled the country.

His decision to flee, leaving behind his wife and two young daughters, underscored the pervasive uncertainty and fear among Belarus’s opposition in the face of a continuing crackdown by the security service, still called the K.G.B. in the authoritarian former Soviet republic.

“I have reason to believe that I will not be leaving the K.G.B. building,” Mr. Mikhalevich wrote in his blog at 12:20 a.m. Monday, referring to a coming interrogation. “I am now in a safe place, beyond the reach of the Belarussian K.G.B.”

Yuri Gubaryevich, a colleague, said he had spoken with Mr. Mikhalevich, who confirmed that the blog post was genuine. He said he was unaware of Mr. Mikhalevich’s whereabouts.

Mr. Mikhalevich’s wife, Milana, said she had not had direct contact with her husband since Saturday and could not say where he was or how he was able to leave the country.

Mr. Mikhalevich was one of seven former presidential candidates arrested when the police violently dispersed a large antigovernment protest after the December election. Tens of thousands of people had gathered outside the government headquarters in Minsk, the capital, angered over the sweeping victory of Belarus’s strong-arm president, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, in the election. Independent observers said the vote was rife with fraud.

Several of those candidates have now been released from jail while they await trials on charges of organizing mass unrest. Facing up to 15 years in prison, they have been barred from speaking publicly about their cases. Most have remained silent. Mr. Mikhalevich has not.

Shortly after his release in February he issued a statement accusing guards at the K.G.B. holding facility in Minsk of abusing detainees arrested on the night of the protest.

He said prisoners were made to stand naked and spread-eagle in frigid temperatures for about 40 minutes as many as six times a day. There were 15 prisoners in a cell made for eight, he said, and people had to sleep in shifts. Several times during his imprisonment, he said, guards coated the walls of the cell with a noxious paint and forced detainees to remain locked inside until it dried.

Through all this, he said, he was denied access to his lawyer.

In a report released Monday, Human Rights Watch detailed widespread abuse similar to that described by Mr. Mikhalevich. It is not clear how Mr. Mikhalevich was able to leave the country. In an interview at his apartment in Minsk last week, he said he was sure he was under heavy surveillance. The authorities had taken his passport and ordered him not to leave Minsk.

In the interview he gave no indication of plans to flee. “My goal right now is to stop the torture and to ensure that political prisoners are freed,” he said. In his blog post on Monday he said he would continue such efforts.


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