Belarus authorities criticised over tape discussing internment camps for protesters

FILE PHOTO: Belarusian opposition figure Tsikhanouskaya attends a news conference in Brussels
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Matthias Williams
·2 min read
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By Matthias Williams

KYIV (Reuters) - President Alexander Lukashenko's main electoral challenger criticised the Belarusian authorities on Friday over an audio recording in which she said a top security official discussed putting people into camps to discourage unrest.

Reuters could not independently verify the authenticity of the recording, which was circulating on social media and provoked an angry reaction online. The interior ministry said it was fake but declined further comment.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who ran against Lukashenko in an election last August, said the voice in the recording was that of a senior interior ministry official.

She did not explain how she had identified the voice in the tape, but portrayed the recording as evidence of brutality by the security forces against protesters who say the election was rigged, an allegation Lukashenko denies.

In the tape, the man says a protester who died during mass demonstrations against Lukashenko was killed by rubber bullets, contradicting the government, which said at the time that the protester was killed in an accident when an explosive device went off in his hand.

The man suggests security forces could "either maim, or mutilate, or kill" to make protesters understand their actions. He discusses building camps surrounded by barbed wire for the protesters and to "keep them there until everything calms down".

Tsikhanouskaya wrote on Twitter that the man in the tape "said he plans to build a camp for people, realizing their constitutional right to protest peacefully against lawlessness."

"Can you imagine this in your country?" she wrote.

She and another opposition figure, Pavel Latushko, said the recording would be handed to international organisations including the United Nations Security Council.

Interior ministry spokeswoman Olga Chemodanova told Interfax news agency that "we did not comment and will not comment on fakes". She could not be reached for further comment.

(Additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Editing by Timothy Heritage)