Photo with Clinton used against jailed Belarus politician

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Belarusian investigators are using a photo of an opposition politician shaking hands with former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as evidence in a criminal case tied to the mass protests after Belarus’ disputed 2020 presidential election.

The Investigative Committee of Belarus on Friday published the photo of Andrey Dzmitryeu, who ran in the election against authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko and is now facing up to four years in prison over his involvement in the protests. In a statement it said the picture with Clinton “may indicate that his activities were coordinated from abroad.”

Dzmitryeu, a 41-year-old activist and leader of the Tell the Truth opposition movement, was detained by security forces Wednesday and has been charged with “organizing riots.” He is being held in the Okrestsina jail in Minsk, which became notorious after rights activists alleged that participants in the 2020 protests were tortured and humiliated there.

The Investigative Committee did not specify when or under what circumstances the photo of Dzmitryeu and Clinton was taken, but claimed that the politician had “crossed the state border of Belarus 599 times, 33 of them after 2020.”

Both the Belarusian opposition and Western countries denounced the 2020 election, which gave Lukashenko another term in office, as rigged. Authorities in Minsk responded to the protests with a massive crackdown that saw over 35,000 detained and thousands beaten by police. Dozens of media outlets and non-governmental organizations were also shut down.

According to official Belarusian election data, Dzmitryeu placed fourth with 1.2% of the vote, while Lukashenko got over 80%. During the election campaign, Dzmitryeu repeatedly voiced his support for opposition figures barred from running.

According to Belarus’ Viasna human rights watchdog, there were 1,445 political prisoners in the eastern European country as of early January. Opposition leader Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya, who many believe was the real winner of the 2020 election, condemned Dzmitryeu’s arrest and claimed in a Twitter post that “on average, 17 people are detained every day in Belarus.”

“I am alarmed by the arrest of another presidential candidate from Belarus,” Tsikhanouskaya, who now lives in exile in Lithuania, said on the social network. “The dictator seems busy taking revenge on his real or imagined opponents — even moderate politicians like Andrey Dzmitryeu.”

Yuras Karmanau, The Associated Press