Thousands of Belarusians demonstrated Saturday in Minsk to demand the release of opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova, who was jailed this week after she resisted expulsion from the country.
Video broadcast by Polish-funded satellite TV channel Belsat and independent outlet Tut.by showed masked Belarusian riot police violently detaining at least 40 women who were thrown into vans as scuffles erupted in the city’s central Freedom Square.
Saturday’s protests were a precursor to a massive women’s rally expected on Sunday to protest police violence and allegations of electoral fraud. Some of the women protesters chanted “Bring back our Masha,” referring to Kolesnikova, while others beat saucepans.
Kolesnikova, who has been in a Minsk jail since Monday, has been accused of undermining national security as part of a criminal investigation against leaders of the Coordination Council, which was formed last month to negotiate a transition of power after President Alexander Lukashenko won a sixth term in office.
Opposition parties, the United States and the European Union allege the August 9 election was rigged.
Lukashenko, who denies the voting was fraudulent, accuses council members and activists of colluding with Western nations to try to create a parallel government.
Thousands of people have been detained over five weeks of protests triggered by the contested August 9 election. At least three people have been killed and hundreds hurt as police have aggressively dispersed peaceful protesters with rubber bullets, clubs and stun grenades.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday said the U.S. and other countries are considering bringing sanctions against "those involved in human rights abuses and repression in Belarus."