Turkish lawyer files U.N. application for jailed Belarusian opposition leader

A Turkish human rights lawyer is leading efforts for the release of Belarus’s opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova,jailed earlier this week after police tried to force her out of the country Duvar news site reported on Saturday.

Lawyer Kurtuluş Baştimar is steering an application filed with the U.N. Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, calling for the government of Belarus to release Kolesnikova and provide information on the state of the opposition leader.

Kolesnikova was bundled into a van in central Minsk on Sept. 7 by a group of masked men, with the van driving away to an undisclosed destination. 

The opposition figure prevented an attempt to expel her from Belarus by tearing her passport up into small pieces and throwing it out of a car window, according to two allies who were present with her at the time. She is now in police custody in Minsk, and faces a potential long prison term over accusations of trying to seize power illegally.

Kolesnikova, 38, is the last of the three opposition leaders still in Belarus, after others were either jailed or forced out of the country.

The three leaders, all women, had joined forces to front the campaign against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko ahead of the Aug. 9 presidential election, after higher-profile male candidates were barred from standing.

“The government of Belarus is given two months to respond to these applications,’’ Duvar quoted Baştimar as saying.  “They are going to provide information on where the opposition leader is, and how and under what conditions she was arrested, in addition to a notice calling for her immediate release.’’

Authorities in Belarus have denied arresting Kolesnikova and claimed to have no knowledge of her whereabouts.