RFE/RL – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (Author)
MINSK -- Valer Tsapkala, the opposition politician whose candidacy election officials refused to register for an August 9 presidential poll, has fled Belarus for Russia with his children for safety reasons.
Tsapkala told Russia's Dozhd television channel on July 24 that his wife Veranika remained in Belarus to join his campaign's forces with those of the officially registered opposition candidate, Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya.
He said that he and his children left the country after "reliable sources" informed him that Belarusian authorities planned to arrest him.
Tsapkala's statement came three days after a court in Minsk held an initial hearing into a lawsuit filed against him by a Turkish businessman residing in Belarus, Sedat Igdeci, who accused Tsapkala of bribery.
The hearing was held in Tsapkala's absence.
On June 29, the Interior Ministry announced that it had started preliminary investigations into what it called "facts of illegal activities" committed by Tsapkala.
Veranika Tsapkala confirmed with the Tut.by online newspaper on July 24 that her husband and their children were now in Russia.
"Two days ago, prosecutors came to the school where my children study and asked teachers to write complaints about us. As far as I understood, they have launched a process of depriving us of the custody over our children," she said.
"Because of that, we decided that Valer and the children must leave Belarusian territory as we face a real danger and threat here."
The August 9 election comes as Lukashenka faces mounting public opposition after 26 years in power.
Hundreds of people, including activists and bloggers have been arrested as the government has cracked down hard on rallies and demonstrations supporting opposition candidates, who were not registered by the election officials.
Western governments and international institutions, including the United Nations, have called on Lukashenka's government to stop the crackdown.
Veranika Tsapkala along with Maryya Kalesnikava, a coordinator of the campaign of another potential presidential candidate, former Belgazprombank head Viktar Babaryka, joined Tsikhanouskaya, who unlike Tsapkala and Babaryka was registered as a presidential candidate.
Babaryka is currently in jail facing embezzlement charges, which he and his supporters reject as politically motivated.
Tsikhanouskaya became a presidential candidate after her husband, well-known vlogger Syarhey Tsikhanouski, was incarcerated for openly expressing his intention to run for president.
It became known on July 20 that Tsikhanouskaya also moved her two children to an EU country out of concern for their safety after receiving threats ahead of the election.
Last month, the authorities detained at least 14 journalists for allegedly participating in unsanctioned protests, and in May, five journalists covering opposition candidates were detained, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
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