(Reuters) – A Belarusian opposition politician who ran for president against veteran leader Alexander Lukashenko in 2020 and was arrested this week is being investigated for alleged “extremism”, investigators said on Friday.

Andrei Dmitriev, 41, could not be reached for comment. He was detained late on Wednesday in the capital Minsk, but authorities did not say why.

Dmitriev was one of four people who ran against Lukashenko in the 2020 election which was marred by voter fraud allegations and followed by protests that were crushed in a brutal crackdown by the authorities.

Dmitriev received 1.2% of the vote, according to official results, but did not gain as much prominence as now-exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. He stayed in Belarus after the vote and made statements moderately critical of the authorities.

The Investigative Committee said in a statement on Friday that Dmitriev had taken part in “riots” from August to September 2020, after the election.

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It published photographs of him at demonstrations, said he had been abroad 33 times since 2020 and alleged that his activities could have been coordinated from outside Belarus.

Rights activists estimate about 1,500 people are in jail in Belarus on politically motivated charges. Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, is a pariah in the West and a close ally of Russia.

(Writing by Tom Balmforth, editing by Timothy Heritage)

Copyright 2023 Thomson Reuters.

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