Belarus detains dozens after KGB agent, dissident killed in shootout

Kyiv, Ukraine — Belarus’ most prominent human rights group said Friday that some 100 people have been detained in the wake of a shootout that left an opposition supporter and a security officer dead. The Viasna human rights center said the detentions took place in the capital, Minsk, and seven other cities and appeared to be connected to comments made on social media about the incident, which was caught on camera by members of Belarus‘ KGB security agency.

In an image taken from video released on September 28, 2021 by Belarus’  national Investigative Committee, agents of the country’s KGB security agency point their weapons inside the Minsk home of opposition supporter Andrei Zeltser, who was killed during the raid along with one KBG agent. Reuters/Belarus Investigative Committee/handout

Viasna said those arrested face charges of insulting government officials and inciting “social enmity,” which carry sentences of up to 12 years in prison.

Belarusian authorities reported the incident on Tuesday night, alleging that “an especially dangerous criminal” opened fire on security officers after they showed up at his apartment looking for “individuals involved in terrorist activities.” Authorities said one of officers of the Belarus state security service, or KGB, was killed and the perpetrator was killed by return fire. 
A large U.S.-based IT company founded by Belarusians, EPAM Systems, said the dead civilian was its employee Andrei Zeltser. EPAM last year started a program to train Belarusian IT workers who lost their jobs for supporting the massive protests that broke out against authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko after elections opponents called a sham in August 2020.

New video of journalist detained in Belarus 02:10

Lukashenko on Friday held a minute of silence during a meeting with presidential administration officials in honor of the dead KGB officer and vowed to “not forgive the death of this guy.” 
Earlier this week, the deputy head of Belarus’ Interior Ministry, Nikolai Karpyankov, in televised remarks called for mass detentions of those who commented on the incident on social media, denouncing them as “absolute freaks.” 
Top Belarus opposition activist Pavel Latushko told The Associated Press that “a fair investigation (of the incident) is impossible under Lukashenko.” 

Belarusian opposition supporter Andrei Zeltser, who worked for U.S.-based IT firm EPAM Systems, holds a gun in his Minsk apartment moments before agents from the country’s KGB security service broke down his door and engaged in a shootout that left him and one agent dead. The image was obtained from video distributed by Belarus’ Investigative Committee. Reuters/Belarus Investigative Committee handout

“Not only Andrei Zeltser — a calm, kind and compassionate man — has been declared a terrorist. All of those who disagree with the regime have been declared terrorists,” Latushko told the AP from Warsaw, where he is currently in exile. 

On Wednesday, the Belarusian Ministry of Information blocked access to the website of Komsomolskaya Pravda in Belarus — the Belarusian subsidiary of a popular Russian newspaper of the same name. 

Biden criticizes Belarus over dissident arres… 01:15

The ministry didn’t provide any reasons for the decision to block the website, which is visited by some 20,000 users daily, but access to it was restricted several hours after it ran a story about the shootout, which featured a comment from the dead civilian’s friend, who described him a positive light. 
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Friday said the Russian authorities “categorically disagree” with the move. “We believe that it violates the principles of media freedom. We would expect the Belarusian side to ensure conditions for the work of our media outlets,” Peskov said.