Nobel Prize-winning author and Belarusian opposition activist Svetlana Alexievich refused to answer questions Wednesday after Belarusian investigators summoned her for questioning over allegations of criminal activities committed by a newly formed opposition group with which she is associated.
Alexievich is a member of the opposition Coordination Council, the target of a criminal case accusing it of illegally trying to seize control of the government from President Alexander Lukashenko.
Alexievich told reporters in Minsk that she exercised her right as a witness not to testify against herself.
“They try to scare us, but we are not guilty of anything,” she said. “We want to live in a free country, we want to [be] free.”
Opposition activists formed the council last week to negotiate a transition of power after Lukashenko won a sixth term in office in an August 9 election that the activists and other critics maintain was rigged.
Lukashenko has rejected offers to negotiate with the council, whose dozens of members represent a broad array of Belarusian society.
The authoritarian leader has accused the activists, who have been protesting for more than two weeks, of being under the control of Western nations and allegedly trying to create a parallel government.
As she arrived for questioning, Alexievich urged Russia to help convince Lukashenko to negotiate with the opposition.
“Maybe the world can help us so that Lukashenko will negotiate with somebody,” she said. “Now he talks only with Putin. Maybe it is possible to get Putin and the world involved in the conversation [so] Lukashenko will talk and understand.”
Of all the former Soviet republics, Belarus is Russia's closest ally. Many political observers believe Lukashenko’s future will largely be determined by Russia, which must decide whether to continue to support him as his authority is increasingly questioned by the opposition.
Prosecutors launched the criminal probe on charges of undermining national security. The council denies the charges, saying its goal is to negotiate a peaceful transition of power in the wake of the August 9 election.
The protests were triggered by a brutal government crackdown shortly after the election, which has resulted in the detention of nearly 7,000 people. Three people were killed, and hundreds of others were hurt when police aggressively dispersed peaceful protestors with rubber bullets, clubs and stun grenades.
Two other opposition supporters were found hanged in forests. Police said they committed suicide, but the opposition contests the claim.
Two council leaders were jailed on Tuesday, after police began detaining protestors who were homeward bound after peaceful demonstrations.