KYIV — Belarus on Friday charged a former marketing campaign staffer for Bernie Sanders and Barack Obama with allegedly organizing an unlawful political rally for the candidate working in opposition to the nation’s authoritarian president in Sunday’s election, his lawyer advised BuzzFeed Information.
Vitali Shkliarov, a 44-year-old Belarusian citizen who because the partner of a US diplomat holds an American diplomatic passport, is being held due to “group actions that grossly violate public order,” in line with Shkliarov’s lawyer.
The lawyer, Anton Gashinsky, stated that authorities additionally allege Shkliarov violated the “legit calls for of presidency officers, leading to disruption of transport, enterprises, establishments, and organizations.”
If convicted, Shkliarov may very well be fined or imprisoned for as much as three years, or each, in line with the prison code below which he’s charged.
In his first communication with Western media since his detention, Shkliarov denied the fees and advised BuzzFeed Information via Gashinsky that he believes the fees are retaliation for his public criticism of President Alexander Lukashenko.
The jailing and indictment of Shkliarov is the newest in a crackdown by Belarus’s notoriously heavy-handed authorities forward of Sunday’s presidential election.
Neither the State Division nor the Belarusian authorities responded instantly to requests for remark.
Greater than 1,300 folks, together with journalists and election displays, have been detained forward of the ballot, in line with the Viasna human rights group. Thirty-three Russian military contractors accused of attempting to destabilize the nation have additionally been detained.
Authorities allege that Shkliarov is liable for organizing a Could 29 occasion within the western Belarusian metropolis of Grodno the place well-liked vlogger Sergei Tikhanovsky was accumulating signatures for his spouse, Svetlana, to run for president.
Tikhanovsky was detained on the occasion and stays in jail, whereas his spouse has gone on to construct a rare marketing campaign that has rallied Belarusians who advised BuzzFeed Information they’re hungry for change after 26 years below the iron-fisted rule of President Alexander Lukashenko.
Lukashenko has been accused by worldwide watchdogs of human rights abuses over the course of his 5 phrases in workplace. Worldwide election displays have deemed all however his first election victory rigged. This yr, the federal government has banned exterior displays from observing the vote.
Shkliarov runs a well-liked Telegram channel the place he publishes evaluation about political occasions within the US, Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. Per week earlier than he was detained, he additionally blasted Lukashenko for his use of “populism and brute pressure” in a column revealed with Forbes Russia.
Shkliarov, a fluent English speaker and a self-described political junkie, relies alongside along with his spouse in Washington however makes frequent journeys to Japanese Europe. His most up-to-date marketing campaign work got here in 2018, when he served as senior adviser for Ksenia Sobchak, a Russian socialite who went on to lose the election to President Vladimir Putin.
Shkliarov labored on the 2016 presidential marketing campaign of Sanders as director of mobilization for Nevada and on President Obama’s 2012 reelection marketing campaign, throughout which he ran a workforce of some 40 organizers, according to CNN.
Shkliarov advised BuzzFeed information via his lawyer that he was in his hometown of Gomel along with his son to go to his mom, who has most cancers, and his father when he was detained on July 29; he had simply left the household’s house to purchase a watermelon.
He stated he didn’t get far earlier than brokers from Belarus’s KGB safety service “kidnapped” him and hauled him to a pretrial detention heart in Minsk. He had solely sufficient time to ship one phrase to followers of his Telegram social media channel: “Arrested.”
On July 31, the nation’s deputy prosecutor common ordered Shkliarov to stay in pretrial detention, in line with Gashinsky.
Since then, Shkliarov stated via his lawyer, he has modified jail cells a number of instances and endured horrific circumstances. In a single case, he stated he was crammed into an overcrowded cell inside a humid basement with mould and cockroaches, in addition to inmates who had been continuously smoking.
Gashinsky has filed complaints about Shkliarov’s detention and the circumstances through which he’s being held however stated they’ve been ignored by authorities.
Little had been talked about publicly about Shkliarov in Belarus till Thursday, when Lukashenko in public remarks carried by the Belta information company spoke a couple of US passport holder who had been taken into custody. “Some folks had been detained with American passports, married to Individuals, working within the State Division,” Lukashenko stated, possible alluding to Shkliarov.