How two Belarusians ended up stuck in the Swedish embassy for five months

How two Belarusians ended up stuck in the Swedish embassy for five months
A rally in Minsk in September, protesting the election of President Alexander Lukashenko. Photo: AP Photo/TUT.by
The Swedish embassy in Minsk is still trying to figure out how to handle the diplomatic headache involving two Belarusians who have been stuck in the embassy for five months after seeking refuge there last year.

A father and his son, Vitaly and Vladislav Kuznechiki, tried to enter the Swedish embassy in the capital of Belarus on September 11th to seek asylum in the midst of widespread protests disputing the election of President Alexander Lukashenko.

Finding the front door closed, the pair managed to jump a fence to the diplomatic compound's car park.

“The two individuals are still on the premises of the embassy,” a spokesperson for the Swedish foreign ministry told AFP.

“We are acting as the situation requires, including with regard to safety and security. We have a dialogue with the individuals,” the spokesperson said, declining to comment closer on what measures had been taken.

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According to Belarusian media reports, both are being investigated after a clash between demonstrators and police during a protest in the northeastern city of Vitebsk in early September.

They could face up to six years in prison on charges of violence against police officers.

Swedish diplomats are keeping a low profile “for humanitarian reasons,” a source close to the case told AFP.

“They don't want to provoke the Belarusian authorities or force them to react, they don't want to draw attention. This problem is very unexpected for Sweden, there have been very few similar examples in history,” the source said.

Sweden's Foreign Minister Ann Linde said in November that the father and son had entered the embassy “unlawfully”, and noted that the Minsk embassy was not Swedish territory.

Nevertheless the two men have stayed there and are sharing a room at the embassy.

“They don't want to hand them over to the Belarusian police, of course. But at the same time, they don't want to create a situation where a lot of other people could come to the embassy and ask for asylum,” said Martin Uggla, president of human rights group Östgruppen (Eastern group).

He said the embassy could try to get guarantees from Belarusian authorities that the pair would not be arrested, or they could accompany them to the Lithuanian or Polish border.

“I think the Swedish embassy will never chase them away without these types of security guarantees, because this could lead to severe criticism here in Sweden,” Uggla said.


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