Jailed Belarusian opposition leader tells protesters not to give up: news portal

FILE PHOTO: Maria Kolesnikova, one of Belarus's opposition leaders, attends a news conference in Minsk, Belarus, August 24, 2020. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Detained Belarusian opposition politician Maria Kolesnikova has urged protesters against long-time leader Alexander Lukashenko not to give up and mocked the security forces who arrested her, in a letter shared by the Tut.By news portal on Thursday.

Kolesnikova, 38, was last seen in public on Sept. 7 being snatched off a Minsk street and shoved into a van by masked men.

In a statement made through her lawyer soon afterward, Kolesnikova said she had been driven to the Ukrainian border by security officers in the middle of the night, and threatened with expulsion “alive or in bits”.

Kolesnikova then ripped up her passport to avoid expulsion, a move that has burnished her status as a hero to the mass protest movement against Lukashenko.

His 26-year grip on power is being challenged by opponents who say his Aug. 9 presidential victory was rigged.

In the letter, sent to her father from jail, Kolesnikova urged fellow Belarusians not to buckle in their fight against the rule of Lukashenko, a former Soviet collective farm boss.

“You must tell them not to give up, just keep going! These people who have kidnapped me are all incredibly weak and hysterical. They don’t even know how to do their job well.

“Everything is fine with me, the conditions are tolerable and the new friends are wonderful,” she wrote in the letter, which Tut.By said was delivered in an envelope decorated with red and white hearts, the colours of Belarus’ opposition.

Lukashenko, 66, was sworn in for a new term on Wednesday in an inauguration held without prior notice and denounced as illegitimate by the opposition and the European Union.

Reporting by Maxim Rodionov; Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Mark Heinrich