A 31-year-old man shot dead by Belarusian security forces this week in a raid on an apartment block in the capital Minsk was an employee of the US-based software firm Epam Systems, the company has said.
Footage shown on state television showed plainclothes officers breaking down an apartment door and a man firing at them as they entered.
Belarusian authorities said KGB officers had shot the man dead on Tuesday after he opened fire against the security forces, one of whom also died. A KGB statement said his wife had been arrested.
The Investigative Committee of Belarus, which investigates major crimes, said a 31-year-old man was “liquidated with return fire” after resisting law enforcement officers. Reuters could not independently verify the statements or footage of the incident that was aired on Belarusian state television.
Forces loyal to President Alexander Lukashenko unleashed a violent crackdown on protests following a disputed election last year, including searches of apartment blocks where they believed protesters were hiding.
In power since 1994, Lukashenko has defied western sanctions and opposition calls to step down and described the protesters as criminals bent on violent uprising.
The IT industry – mainly housed in a state-run technology park on the outskirts of Minsk – was a driving force behind the protests. Epam’s Belarusian founder was a signatory to an open letter calling for the release of prisoners and new elections.
Local media and a senior adviser to the exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya identified the man killed as Andrei Zeltser, an IT worker with Epam. A LinkedIn page of a man with the same name states he has worked at Epam since 2016.
“While the individual in question has not been named by any official source, we can confirm that the individual reported in the media was an Epam employee,” Epam said. “The company has no information that the individual ever held any other citizenship or residential status outside of Belarus.”
Tsikhanouskaya earlier described the incident as “a result of lawlessness in Belarus”. She added: “Our people don’t feel safe any more – even in their homes. The autocrat holding on to the power with violence and terror creates a confrontation between Belarusians.”
Belarusian KGB officers on Thursday detained 50 people on charges of insulting a government official or inciting social hatred after the incident, the Viasna-96 human rights group said. “Apparently, the arrests are connected with comments on social media posts about the death of Andrei Zeltser and a KGB officer,” the rights group said. The interior ministry could not immediately be reached for comment.
Lukashenko’s spokeswoman said the death of the KGB officer would “not remain unpunished”.
The official state news agency, Belta, reported that the man was associated with the opposition movement, citing a lawmaker. The KGB did not identify the man by name or profession but said he was a “terrorist” – the language it uses to describe protesters.
“I can’t say or think anything. I’m shocked, I don’t understand what’s going on,” Belarusian media outlet Nasha Niva quoted Zeltser’s mother-in-law as saying. “Andrei is a very good person, a wonderful son-in-law.
“Do I consider Andrei a terrorist? Of course not.”