Belarusian runner showed on the phone a call for help from the Japanese police | Politics

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WARSAW, Poland (AP) – A Belarusian Olympic sprinter who criticized her coaches at the Tokyo Games said on Thursday she showed police at the airport a call for help translated on her phone as she tried to avoid being put on a plane home, where she feared reprisals from the authoritarian government.

Krystsina Tsimanouskaya described a series of dramatic events at the Olympics that led her to seek help from Poland, where she arrived on Wednesday.

After posting a social media post criticizing the way his team was being run, Tsimanouskaya said he was told to pack his bags. Authorities told her to say she was injured and had to go home early.

On the way to the airport, she spoke briefly to her grandmother, who explained that there had been a massive backlash against her in the media in Belarus, including reports that she was mentally ill. Her grandmother, she says, advised her not to come back.

At the airport, she enlisted the help of the police, translating a plea on her phone and showing it to them.

At a press conference in Warsaw on Thursday, Tsimanouskaya thanked those who supported her during the dramatic standoff.

“It was the whole world, and these people make me a lot stronger,” she said.

She also had a message for her Belarusian compatriots.

“I want to tell all Belarusians not to be afraid and if they are under pressure, speak up,” said the runner.

Poland granted Tsimanouskaya a humanitarian visa, and the 24-year-old said she hoped to find out soon how she could continue her career. She said she would speak with Polish officials on Friday about her next steps. She added that she hoped the Tokyo Games weren’t her last Olympics – and that she wanted to return home someday, when it was safe.

Many Belarusian activists have fled to Poland to avoid a brutal crackdown by the government of President Alexander Lukashenko.

The standoff has drawn more attention to Belarus’s hardline authoritarian government. When the country was rocked by months of protests following an election that gave Lukashenko a sixth term but which the opposition and the West saw as rigged, authorities responded with sweeping crackdowns. Some 35,000 people were arrested and thousands of demonstrators beaten. The government has also targeted independent media and opposition figures.

As a sign of efforts the authorities are prepared to make to silence their critics, Belarusian officials hijacked an airliner to the capital Minsk in May and arrested a dissident journalist on board.

While Tsimanouskaya’s criticisms were aimed at team officials – she complained that she had to attend an event she had never attended – her challenge may not have been well received by authorities policies. Lukashenko, who led the Belarusian National Olympic Committee for nearly a quarter of a century before handing over the post to his son in February, has a keen interest in the sport, seeing it as a key part of national prestige.

Tsimanouskaya’s husband Arseni Zdanevich fled Belarus this week shortly after his wife announced she would not be returning. Poland has also granted him a visa, and he is expected to join it.

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Follow AP’s coverage of Belarus at https://apnews.com/hub/belarus

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