Fact Check: Austrian Foreign Ministry Did NOT Deny Request To Recognize Expired Belarusian Passports


  • Автор: Lead Stories Staff
Fact Check: Austrian Foreign Ministry Did NOT Deny Request To Recognize Expired Belarusian Passports No Denial

Did the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs deny exiled Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya's request to recognize expired Belarusian passports, and does it believe that Belarus political prisoners are being justly punished for their crimes? No, that's not true: The Austrian Foreign Ministry denied this claim to Lead Stories. On February 22, 2024, after the meeting with Tikhanovskaya, Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg announced that Austria would recognize expired Belarusian passports as valid and discussed possible ways to hold the Belarusian authoritarian regime accountable for the situation of Belarusian political prisoners.

The claim appeared in a video (archived here) on February 26, 2024, on TikTok by @sotniktiktok (archived here) with the caption (translated from Russian to English by Lead Stories staff):

Austria refused to succumb to the criminal Tikhanovskaya.

The Austrian foreign ministry refused criminal Tikhanovskaya's annoying request to recognize the expired passports of 'Belarusians'. Even the topic of political prisoners did not touch him. They believe that they are being punished for their crimes. Tikhanovskaya didn't expect this turn of events.

This is how the post appeared on TikTok at the time of writing:

Screenshot 2024-03-13 at 11.26.44.png

(Source: TikTok screenshot taken on Wed, March 13 11:26:12 2024 UTC)

According to Tikhanovskaya's official website (archived here), she met with Schallenberg (archived here) on February 22, 2024. After the meeting, he announced that Austria would recognize expired Belarusian passports as valid. According to Austrian legislation, renouncing Belarusian citizenship is unnecessary to get a foreign passport. The parties agreed to develop instructions for the legalization of Belarusians in Austria. Also, Tikhanovskaya emphasized the situation of Belarusian political prisoners and told the minister about those who are being kept incommunicado by the regime. The politicians discussed possible ways to hold the regime accountable internationally.

On March 11, 2024, Antonia Praun (archived here), the deputy spokesperson for the Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs (MFA Austria), confirmed in an email to Lead Stories that the claim being circulated was false. She wrote:

In any case, this statement is wrong. A readout of the Minister's meeting with opposition leader Tikhanovskaya can be found on our website: https://www.bmeia.gv.at/en/ministerium/presse/aktuelles/2024/02/foreign-minister-alexander-schallenberg-meets-belarusian-opposition-leader-sviatlana-tsikhanouskaya?bcrFallback=bcrFallback

For questions relating to the recognition of Belarussian passports kindly refer to the Press Department of the respective Ministry for the Interior via ressortsprecher@bmi.gv.at

On March 12, 2024, the Press Department of the Ministry for the Interior emailed Lead Stories:

There is nothing more we can add to the reply from the Foreign Ministry.

On September 4, 2023, Belarus' authoritarian (archived here) leader Alexander Lukashenko issued a decree (archived here) banning Belarusian citizens living abroad from renewing their passports (archived here), which could force those who fled the country amid growing repression to return to maintain their travel documents. On the same day, Tikhanovskaya, who fled to Lithuania in 2020, urged Belarusians on her official Telegram page (archived here) not to panic or take reckless actions in response to the decision. She also referred to the process of developing a new Belarusian passport (archived here) for exiled citizens of her country whose official documents have expired.

In 2020 (archived here), Tikhanovskaya took on the role of opposition candidate following the detention of her husband, Sergei Tikhanovsky, a former blogger and presidential candidate who had led mass protests against Lukashenko. She participated in the 2020 presidential election in Belarus and is widely believed to have emerged as the winner. However, she was forced to leave the country with her children. In December 2021, her husband was sentenced to 18 years in prison on various charges, including organizing riots. Tikhanovskaya told the BBC that her husband's sentence was the result of Lukashenko's "personal revenge" (archived here). In March 2023, a Belarusian court sentenced Tikhanovskaya in absentia to 15 years in jail (archived here). The charges levied against her included high treason and conspiracy to seize power.

In 2020, Lukashenko, who had been president of Belarus since 1994 (archived here), resisted months of protests following a presidential election widely believed to have been rigged (archived here). In response, he carried out mass arrests (archived here) and imprisoned numerous opposition politicians and activists.

  Lead Stories Staff

Lead Stories is a fact checking website that is always looking for the latest false, deceptive or inaccurate stories (or media) making the rounds on the internet.

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