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Swedish embassy in Minsk harbours two Belarusians for five months

Two Belarusians who sought refuge in the Swedish embassy in Minsk in September are still there five months later, Sweden’s foreign ministry has announced, in a case turning into a diplomatic headache.

A father and son, Vitaly and Vladislav Kuznechiki, tried to enter the Swedish embassy in the capital of Belarus on 11 September to seek asylum in the midst of widespread protests disputing the election of President Alexander Lukashenko.

Finding the front door closed, the pair managed to jump a fence to the diplomatic compound’s car park.

“The two individuals are still on the premises of the embassy,” a spokesperson for the Swedish foreign ministry told AFP.

“We are acting as the situation requires, including with regard to safety and security. We have a dialogue with the individuals,” the spokesperson said, declining to comment further on what measures had been taken.

According to Belarusian media reports, both men are being investigated after a clash between demonstrators and police during a protest in the north-eastern city of Vitebsk in early September. They could face up to six years in prison on charges of violence against police officers.

Swedish diplomats are keeping a low profile “for humanitarian reasons”, a source close to the case told AFP. “They don’t want to provoke the Belarusian authorities or force them to react, they don’t want to draw attention. This problem is very unexpected for Sweden, there have been very few similar examples in history.”

Sweden’s foreign minister, Ann Linde, said in November the father and son had entered the embassy “unlawfully”, and noted that the Minsk embassy was not Swedish territory. Nevertheless, the two man have stayed there and are sharing a room.

“They [Swedish diplomats] don’t want to hand them over to the Belarusian police, of course. But at the same time, they don’t want to create a situation where a lot of other people could come to the embassy and ask for asylum,” said Martin Uggla, chair of Östgruppen, a Swedish human rights organisation.

He said the embassy could try to get guarantees from Belarusian authorities that the pair would not be arrested, or the men could be accompanied to the Lithuanian or Polish borders.

“I think the Swedish embassy will never chase them away without these types of security guarantees, because this could lead to severe criticism here in Sweden,” Uggla said.

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