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Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, 24, spent the night at a hotel in Tokyo’s Haneda Airport under police protection after publicly attacking the regime of President Alexander Lukashenko. She was reportedly ordered to return to Minsk after she was told to compete in the women’s 4x400m relay on Thursday, an event she had not trained for. After her criticism of the Belarus Olympic Committee, the 24-year-old athlete was told to quit the Games and return to Belarus.
According to her account, she was ordered to pack and taken to the airport, accompanied by the team psychologist and another official.
Ms Tsimanouskaya told the Tribune sports news service in Minsk that it was under orders from a “higher level” than the Belarusian Ministry of Sports.
She said: “I am afraid that in Belarus they might put me in jail. I am not afraid that I will be fired ... I am worried about my safety. And I think that at the moment it is not safe for me in Belarus.”
The athlete managed to convince Japanese police officers at the airport to place her under protection to prevent her from being taken back to Minsk.
EU celebrates Krystsina Tsimanouskaya being saved from Belarus regime at Olympics 2021
Krystsina Tsimanouskaya is a Belarusian athlete
Poland eventually offered her a humanitarian visa so she can live in exile and continue her sporting career.
Reacting to the asylum offer, the European Commission said attempts to remove Ms Tsimanouskaya from Tokyo was another example of the brutality of President Lukashenko’s regime.
A spokeswoman told Express.co.uk: “The attempt to forcibly repatriate Krystsina Tsimanouskaya against her own will is another example of the brutality of the repression of Lukashenko’s regime that hits all categories of Belarusian society, including athletes, and does not respect any Olympic truce.
“We express our full solidarity to Krystsina Tsimanouskaya and commend the member states that offered her support.
Krystsina Tsimanouskaya at the Polish embassy in Japan
“We welcome the fact that she has now been given a humanitarian visa by Poland.”
The Czech Republic also offered Ms Tsimanouskaya assistance after she refused to return to Minsk.
Belarus, a former Soviet state, has been run by autocratic leader President Lukashenko since 1994.
He faced massive protests last year after yet another electoral victory, which critics have claimed was fraudulent.
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Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko is considered Europe's last dictator
His son Viktor is the president of the Belarus Olympic Committee.
The EU has been put under pressure by some of its most vocal supporters to do more to fight the Lukashenko regime and protect dissidents.
Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt yesterday called on the EU to “urgently” help Ms Tsimanouskaya.
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He said: “The EU must ask the IOC and Japanese officials to intervene and ensure she is offered protection from the Belarus regime.”
EU countries have already agreed a sweeping sanctions regime against President Lukashenko’s government.
It was bolstered after Belarus was accused of forcing a Ryanair flight to land in Minsk, in order to arrest a dissident journalist and activist.