Ten Belarusians have filed a criminal complaint in Germany against President Alexander Lukashenko and members of his regime for crimes against humanity during a brutal post-election crackdown, their lawyers said Wednesday.
Acting on behalf of "torture victims", the lawyers have submitted a complaint to federal prosecutors in the city of Karlsruhe against Lukashenko "and other Belarusian security officers", they said in a statement.
The federal prosecutor's office confirmed to AFP that it had received the complaint.
Lawyers Mark Lupschitz, Onur Ozata, Roland Krause and Benedikt Lux said their clients had documented more than 100 examples of "violence, systematic torture and other abuses" during the government crackdown on protests against alleged electoral fraud since August 2020.
"The incumbent government is severely oppressing its own population with a crackdown including arbitrary arrests, politically motivated criminal persecution and other forms of repression," they said.
The lawyers said the plaintiffs had all been imprisoned and reported instances of "spurious arrests, torture and abuse" while they were held.
- Degraded and humiliated -
"Furthermore, they were held in much too small cells or transport vehicles, and were physically abused, humiliated, threatened, insulted and degraded in other ways," they said.
The case is being brought on the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows a foreign country to prosecute crimes against humanity, including war crimes and genocide, regardless of where they were committed.
Germany has been particularly active in pursuing such cases linked to the Syrian regime, and in February convicted a former Syrian intelligence agent for complicity in crimes against humanity.
Eyad al-Gharib, 44, was sentenced to four and a half years in prison in the first verdict worldwide over state-sponsored torture by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government.
In March, a Gambian man was arrested in Germany on suspicion of being part of an army unit that carried out assassinations on behalf of then president Yahya Jammeh, with the victims including an AFP journalist.
Reporters Without Borders has also asked a German court to investigate crimes against humanity by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the grisly killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
- Mass protests -
Lukashenko claimed victory for a sixth term in August elections that were widely criticised internationally and by the opposition as fraudulent.
State authorities responded to weeks of mass protests with force and have sentenced hundreds of people to lengthy jail terms. Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who says she won the vote, fled abroad.
Tikhanovskaya has been staying in Lithuania since fleeing her home country and has been working tirelessly to draw attention to the crisis in Belarus and seek support for new elections.
But despite being slapped with EU sanctions over the violent crackdown, Lukashenko and his allies have held firm, with the authoritarian leader saying he has withstood a revolution directed by the West.
More than 400 activists, protesters and journalists have so far been convicted in a sweeping crackdown by the regime, which has strong support from Moscow.
The German government had said in February it was ready to host 50 opponents of Lukashenko after their protests were met with harsh crackdowns by the regime.
Speaking at an event to commemorate the 76th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands on Wednesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany would "not forget" the prisoners languishing in Belarusian jails.
Those in "acute danger" would be welcomed in Germany if it could be arranged, she said. "We have to make it clear that we are not just supporting them with words, but that we are also doing something."