Belarus opposition asks European prosecutors to probe torture accusations

VILNIUS (Reuters) - Supporters of exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said on Friday they would lobby state prosecutors in several European countries to investigate accusations of torture by Belarusian authorities.

Belarus has been rocked by months of anti-government protests after veteran leader Alexander Lukashenko claimed victory in an Aug. 9 presidential election that his opponents say was rigged, a charge he denies.

Western countries have accused Belarusian security forces of using excessive force in their crackdown on the protesters and have imposed sanctions targeting specific officials.

Tsikhanouskaya’s supporters now want European prosecutors to issue international arrest warrants for officials named in their petitions.

“It’s terrible in Belarus, and I don’t think anything similar is happening anywhere in Europe. We need outside help”, Maksim Kharoshyn told a news conference in Vilnius, saying he had been beaten by Belarusian police while in detention.

A petition filed with Lithuanian prosecutors on Kharoshyn’s behalf asks them to investigate several officials including Belarusian Deputy Interior Minister Nikolai Karpenkov in the case, said Alexander Dobrovolski, an adviser to Tsikhanouskaya.

Dobrovolski said similar requests would be sent to prosecutors in Poland, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, where other alleged victims of Belarusian police beatings now reside.

Belarus denies torturing prisoners and says its police show restraint in dealing with protesters it has said are in league with hostile foreign powers.

Lithuania’s criminal code punishes state-sanctioned torture by up to five years in jail. It allows for the prosecution of foreigners for crimes allegedly committed outside the country.

Tsikhanouskaya, who says she won the August presidential election, is now based in the Lithuanian capital but was not at Friday’s news conference.

Reporting By Andrius Sytas; Editing by Gareth Jones