On the edge of the forest, on the gates topped with barbed wire and cameras that surround the Salcininkai border post in southern Lithuania, twenty portraits are hung in a hurry, Thursday, May 27. Twenty smiling faces among which stands out that of Roman Protassevich. Arrested in Minsk after the hijacking four days earlier of a commercial plane connecting Athens to Vilnius, he is the last to join the cohort of journalists imprisoned on the other side, in Belarus. Organized by the NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the ephemeral exhibition attracted two Belarusian border guards who ostensibly walk along, with a dog, what everyone here calls the new Iron Curtain.
The former Soviet republic ruled since 1994 by Alexander Lukashenko is almost cut off from the rest of the world. Since the Protassevich affair, the European Union (EU) has banned Belarusian planes from its airspace and European airlines have suspended their flights. The land route, closed for months at the initiative of Minsk on the pretext of the Covid-19 pandemic, is no longer accessible, drop by drop, only to trucks of goods, visible at the exit of the village of Salcininkai .
“Now our families are prisoners”, worries Hanna Rusinava, correspondent in Lithuania for Belsat TV, an independent Belarusian channel based in Poland, two journalists of which, in Minsk, were heavily sentenced to two years in prison.
“Belarusians no longer have the possibility of fleeing if they want to escape the regime”, worries Svetlana Tsikhanovskaya. Herself exiled in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, the leader of the Belarusian opposition, ex-candidate for the presidential election of August 2020 deprived of her victory, does not dispute the measure taken by the EU but pleads for “Emergency evacuations”, a “Humanitarian corridor”, for the opponents and journalists hunted relentlessly by the authorities in Minsk. “The situation is deteriorating”, she insists, installed in her offices at the top of a tower. “Twenty-nine journalists and twelve bloggers are in prison today. The last free Youtuber, Olga Takachouk, was arrested last week ”, says his advisor Franak Viacorka.
2,142 Belarusians welcomed in Lithuania
In nine months, after major protests in Belarus against the forced re-election of Alexander Lukashenko, Lithuania welcomed 2,142 Belarusians on a one-year humanitarian visa, including 812 “permissions”, a simplified procedure, according to figures arrested on May 27 provided by the Ministry of the Interior. To this are added “More than 2,000 business visas” who would also be “Factually humanitarian”.
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