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Belarusian Athlete's Defection Is No Surprise To Human Rights Experts

Belarus athlete Krystsina Tsimanouskaya waves as she boards a Vienna-bound flight at Narita International Airport outside Tokyo on August 4, 2021.
Belarus athlete Krystsina Tsimanouskaya waves as she boards a Vienna-bound flight at Narita International Airport outside Tokyo on August 4, 2021.

Belarusian Olympic sprinter Kristina Timanovskaya refused to go home Sunday after being escorted to the airport by Belarusian officials. She said she feared for her safety after she criticized her coaches on social media.

Timanovskaya isn't the first Belarusian to face punishment for speaking her mind. Last year, WNBA player Yelena Leuchanka was jailed after protesting the result of Belarus's election. Earlier this week, a Belarusian activist was found dead in Ukraine, and local police have launched a murder case.

Morning Edition's A Martínez talked to Heather McGill, a researcher at Amnesty International, and she said these incidents are "quite common."

"What happened to [Timanovskaya] is the tip of the iceberg in what's happening in Belarus every day," McGill said. "Thousands of people have been detained for taking part in peaceful protests."

Timanovskaya left Tokyo for Vienna on Wednesday after obtaining a humanitarian visa from Poland.

For more on what's happening in Belarus, click here to listen.


This story originally appeared on the Morning Edition live blog.

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