Men appearing to be law enforcement officers have abducted four Belarusian opposition activists in an attempt to scare them away from political activity in the repressive former Soviet republic, a human rights organization said Tuesday.
The activists were held for several hours before being released in the woods dozens of miles (kilometers) from the capital, Minsk.
Dmitry Dashkevich, leader of the Youth Front, said five men seized him from his Minsk apartment on Sunday. They put a bag on his head, pushed him into a minibus and after a five-hour drive threatened to kill him, he said.
"It was a real imitation execution," he said. "In the woods they told me they had already dug my grave and would bury me there."
Dashkevich said his abductors were in plainclothes but carried police radios, leaving him with little doubt that they were from the special services.
After returning to Minsk, Dashkevich said he reported his abduction to the police, who responded by searching his apartment and confiscating opposition literature.
Yauhen Afnahel, an activist with the European Belarus Movement, was abducted Monday. Two other opposition activists were abducted in late November. In all four cases, the scenario was the same, according to Dashkevich.
The respected human rights center Vyasna issued a statement Tuesday condemning the abductions, which it described as a form of political persecution.
"We are certain that Belarusian law enforcement agencies took part in the abductions of the activists of the youth organizations," Vyasna activist Vladimir Lobkovich said.
The Interior Ministry said it had no information about such abductions.
European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek issued a statement Tuesday condemning the abductions in Belarus, which he said would harm its efforts to improve relations with Europe.
"I appeal to the authorities to create circumstances which would eliminate such incidents from happening ever again," Buzek's statement said.