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Belarus stops embassies issuing passports in threat to exiles

By AFP - Sep 05,2023 - Last updated at Sep 05,2023

MOSCOW — Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko has ordered the reclusive country’s embassies to stop issuing passports, in a move that leaves his critics abroad vulnerable to prosecution if they return.

Tens of thousands of Belarusians fled the Moscow-allied country in 2020, after Lukashenko brutally suppressed mass protests against his rule.

According to a decree published on Monday, Belarusians can only get a new passport or renew one in “consular services attached to their last registered place of residence” on Belarusian territory.

Until now, Belarusians living abroad were able to get new passports at the country’s diplomatic missions.

Since the protests, Minsk has jailed hundreds for speaking out against Lukashenko, with many Belarusians who took part in the protests or published anti-regime posts online avoiding returning home for fear of arrest.

Not being able to renew passports abroad would threaten their legal status in a new host country while also putting them at risk of trouble with the authorities back home.

Exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya said on social media that she was preparing to launch a “New Belarus passport”, without explaining what this would entail.

“Dear Belarusians, I ask you not to panic and not to commit rash actions,” she said.

“Even if your passport expires, you should not return to your home country if you are threatened with persecution. No document in the world is worth a person’s freedom,” she said.

According to the rights group Viasna, Belarus currently has 1,501 political prisoners.

 

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