Belarus human rights group denounces detention of priest who posted Ukrainian flag on social media

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — The prominent Belarusian human rights group Viasna on Tuesday denounced an extension to the detention of a Roman Catholic priest who was jailed after displaying the Ukrainian flag in a social media post.

Andrzej Jukhniewicz was arrested in early May and charged with conducting an unauthorized picket for displaying the flag. Belarus is a close ally of Russia and although it has not sent troops into Ukraine, it has hosted Russian troops and missiles that have been deployed in Ukraine.

The priest’s jailing comes amid a sweeping and severe crackdown on dissent in Belarus that began as a wave of large and persistent protests gripped the country in 2020. The protests started after an election whose official results gave authoritarian Alexander Lukashenko a sixth term in office, though the results were widely regarded as manipulated.

An estimated 35,000 people were detained in the crackdown, many of them beaten by police, and Belarus’ most prominent opposition figures either fled the country or were imprisoned — including Viasna’s founder Ales Bialiatski, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

Jukhniewicz was to have been released from jail this week, but authorities continued his detention until July 2 without explanation, according to a Belarusian Catholic website.

In a statement, Viasna called for the release of Jukhniewicz and all other people it deemed political prisoners and for the ending of repression of dissidents.

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