Maltese MEPs have expressed their opinions about the situation in Belarus following the controversy around Belarusian Olympian Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, who sought protection from Japanese authorities after her country’s delegation attempted to force her back to the country.
On Monday, the Belarusian sprinter called for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to intervene after her team’s officials “put her under pressure” to return home after criticising her coaches. The 24-year-old sought police protection at the terminal in order to not board the flight.
As of the time of writing, Tsimanouskaya has been granted a humanitarian visa by Poland, with several EU member states such as Slovenia and the Czech Republic also offering similar routes.
Her situation has drawn international attention back on Belarus, shortly after the kidnapping of Belarusian journalist Raman Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega.
Speaking to some of Malta’s MEPs, Lovin Malta asked for their views on Tsimanouskaya’s situation as it continued to develop.
The IOC and Tokyo 2020 have spoken to Krystsina Tsymanouskaya directly tonight. She is with the authorities at Haneda airport and is currently accompanied by a staff member of Tokyo 2020. She has told us that she feels safe. /1
— IOC MEDIA (@iocmedia) August 1, 2021
Malta’s longest-serving MEP highlighted that “the plight of Krystsina Tsimanouskaya is the plight of each and every Belarusian who believes in democracy and human rights”.
He explained that his mandate within the European Parliament has been to always strive to protect journalists and whistleblowers across Europe and that “what is happening in Belarus is no different”.
“If Lukashenko’s grip on Belarus was slightly obscure, what we have witnessed of late is bathed in harsh, unequivocal light”.
The MEP emphasised that the kidnapping of Raman Protasevich and Sofia Sapega shocked the world and “taught us that we have to stand against authoritarianism and it has set the stage for us to quickly recognise that Krystsina Tsimanouskaya was close to being the next victim of kidnapping by the Belarusian state”.
Casa also highlighted that for the “bravery” Belarusian citizens have shown in their fight for freedom, “they do not deserve to be abandoned. Stories like Krystsina Tsimanouskaya’s are distressing and far from desirable. But they are a reminder of the ongoing and hopeful struggle that the EU has a moral obligation to support”.
“Protecting the fundamental rights of Belarusians has to be an EU-wide effort out of a European belief in the value of democracy”, he stated.
Asked about whether Malta should have made an offer for aiding Tsimanouskaya like other member states did, Casa noted that “much more meaningful action needs to be committed by the Maltese state to prove its democratic credentials [instead of] offering Krystsina Tsimanouskaya symbolic protection” in light of the recommendations of the public inquiry into Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination.
Alex Agius Saliba
“During these Olympic games we have witnessed many positive examples of what sportsmanship should really be”, Agius Saliba highlighted.
Yet, “the Belarusian incident is yet another example of the restriction of the basic right of freedom of speech and yet, this is not an isolated incident but it seems more of a systemic problem in Belarus”.
Tsimanouskaya was forced to return home after complaining on social media that her coaches entered her in another race at short notice after some of her teammates were found to be illegible.
Belarusian officials stated that she was taken off the team due to their concerns for her emotional and psychological condition.
Agius Saliba went on to state his belief that “Tsimanouskaya should be protected against any forms of vindicative actions from the Belarusian regime. It’s really positive that some EU member states [also] offered protection to the Belarusian athlete”.
The First Vice-President of the European Parliament reiterated that what happened to Tsimanouskaya “is appalling but symptomatic of the deterioration of the situation in Belarus”.
“This is a global moment of truth. The world cannot fail Krystsina and it cannot fail Belarus.”
She also praised the EU sember states who offered support and welcomed Tsimanouskaya into their nations if she chose to do so. She noted that “we have seen encouraging signals from Czechia and Poland too”.
“We must be able to give her protection. She deserves safety and Belarus deserves freedom from Europe’s Last Dictator. These are the last desperate throes of Lukashenko’s regime. It will fall. Belarus will be free.”
“This is just another attempt by Belarusian authorities to silence dissidents and oppress those who dare not comply with the authoritarian regime”, Engerer emphasised. “Krystsina Tsimanouskaya must be protected by the rest of the democratic world”.
The MEP also highlighted that it was crucial that we did not fail Tsimanouskaya as was done with Raman Protasevich and his girlfriend.
“By now, we are aware of what the Government of Belarus is capable of doing and we should be prepared for action in such cases.”
“We must stand with the Belarusian people who are living in fear of a government that does not represent them”, he continued while praising the efforts of both the Japanese authorities and the EU nations that reached out to support her.
“As a European Union, we must offer asylum and protection to all those who are being persecuted for their beliefs, not only in Belarus but also elsewhere, and empower civil society and communities in their fight for democracy.”
Lovin Malta also reached out to MEPs Josianne Cutajar and Alfred Sant. As of the writing of this, responses from the two have not been received.
This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The European Parliament is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.
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