Belarusian Olympic sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya has been granted asylum in Poland after she was taken to an airport against her wishes by team officials to board a flight back home for complaining about the country’s coaches in an Instagram video.
The 24-year-old, who was due to compete in the women’s 200-meter sprint at the Tokyo Olympics on Monday Aug. 1, posted a video on her Instagram complaining that the coach had signed her up for the 4x400m relay that she had not trained for after some teammates were found to be ineligible.
Belarus sporting officials then came to her room and told her to apologize and return home. On Sunday Aug. 4, ahead of her race the next day, she was taken to Tokyo’s Haneda airport.
She refused to board the plane and requested police protection from the Japanese police at the airport, posting a video calling on the International Olympic Committee for help, according to the Guardian.
“There is pressure against me,” she said in the the video shared to the Telegram channel of the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation, a group that helps athletes jailed or sidelined for their political views. “They’re trying to get me out of the country without my permission. I am asking the IOC to get involved.”
Tsimanouskaya told Belarusian news portal Zerkalo.io that she was worried if she went back to Belarus she might be put in jail.
She told the New York Times on Tuesday that she had not intended to make a political statement with her video.
“I will not say that politics came into my life, because in general there was no politics,” she said. “I simply expressed my dissatisfaction with the coaching staff, who decided to put me in the relay race without telling me about it, without asking me if I’m ready to run.”
The Belarusian committee says that it withdrew her from the games due to her “emotional and psychological state.”
On Monday, the IOC said that Tsimanouskaya was being protected by police in Japan.
She and her husband were later granted a humanitarian visa from Poland, and she remained in the Polish embassy in Tokyo for two nights before flying to Vienna, Austria, on Wednesday Aug. 4.
Tsimanouskaya had been expected to fly directly to Warsaw, Poland, but a Polish government official told Reuters that her itinerary was switched last minute as security precaution.
Her husband, also a sprinter, fled to Ukraine when the news about Timanovskaya began to dominate the headlines, the BBC reported.
In May, the Belarus government “hijacked” a passenger plane carrying prominent opposition journalist Roman Protasevich and forced it to land in Minsk, where authorities then arrested Protasevich, sparking international outrage.
On Wednesday, Austrian authorities confirmed Tsimanouskaya is safe and will fly to Poland, Reuters reported.
The IOC has started an investigation into Tsimanouskvaya’s case and has received a report from the Belarusian team.
Since his re-election last August, Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko has been cracking down on the opposition.
Riot police have responded to mass protests demanding his resignation by beating and detaining protesters.
Since then, more than 33,000 people have been detained, and more than 1,800 criminal cases were opened against activists, according to human rights group Viasna.
Protesters say the contested election last year was rigged in order to extend Lukashenko’s rule since 1994.
Authorities have released video of Protasevich showing him confessing to organizing anti-government protests and praising Lukashenko, footage that Protasevich’s family and allies say was obtained under duress.
In June, an opposition activist stabbed himself in the neck with a pen during a court hearing, saying investigators had pressured him to plead guilty by threatening to prosecute his family and friends.
On Tuesday, Vitaly Shishov, an opposition activist living in exile in Ukraine was found hanged in a park near his home in Kiev. Ukrainian police have launched a murder investigation.