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Foreign minister works for release of Swiss held in Belarus

Hundreds were arrested in protests following the presidential election in Belarus over the weekend. Keystone / Tatyana Zenkovich

Belarus says it is ready for "constructive and objective dialogue" after a telephone call with Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis. A key issue: the release of a Swiss arrested during protests after the presidential election in Belarus last weekend. 

The Belarus Ministry of Foreign Affairs posted a statement External linkin English confirming the phone call on Friday between Cassis and his Belarus counterpart Vladimir Makei and stating the “readiness of the Belarusian side for a constructive and objective dialogue with foreign partners on all issues related to the developments in Belarus during the election campaign and after its completion” had been noted by the Swiss. 

The Belarus statement did not mention the Swiss wrestler Tanguy Darbellay  who is currently in a Belarus prison after being arrested during protests in Minsk on Monday evening. However, in a tweet, sent after the call,  the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that “both sides were doing all they can that the Swiss who was arrested during the protests in Belarus would be released as soon as possible”. 

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Darbellay’s family has confirmed that the young Swiss wrestler had been arrested. Earlier this week, Swiss public television, RTS, spokeExternal link with Darbellay’s father who said that images and videos shot in the prison allowed the family to identify the athlete and confirm his identity. 

The Swiss foreign ministry has previous said it was treating the case as highly urgent. 

Conditions in prison

Darbellay, from canton Valais, moved to Minsk in autumn last year to pursue his passion for wrestling. He speaks the language and is well integrated in the city, according to the father. The 21-year-old is part of the Swiss national wrestling team and won the title of national champion in the 80-kilogram weight class in May 2019. 

The Russia correspondent with Swiss public television SRF, Luzia Tschirky, earlier spoke with Russian journalist Anton Starkow, who was also arrested and held in the same cell as Darbellay. Starkow was released after about 20 hours.

Darbellay was reportedly arrested on the third day of protests while returning home. Starkow said the Swiss was not involved in the protests but simply “in the wrong place at the wrong time”. He is being held in a cell with other foreigners, which is said to have better conditions.

Darbellay’s father, Christian Darbellay, told the Friday edition of the Nouvelliste newspaperExternal link that his son was “apparently well”. “It seems that Tanguy was questioned by a first police officer who let him though. Another searched him and a third one arrested him as he was in process of going home,” he said

The Swiss foreign ministry had already criticised the official police reaction in Belarus following protests which erupted in response to Sunday’s presidential election.

According to reports, police arrested thousands of protestors and used stun grenades and rubber bullets leaving hundreds injured and at least two dead.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR