A US citizen wanted by the FBI on charges of assaulting police officers in the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riot has been granted asylum in Belarus, state media of the repressive Eastern European country reported.
Evan Neumann, a former California resident charged by Washington state prosecutors with more than a dozen crimes, including beating up police officers and using a metal barricade as a battering ram, left the United States shortly after last year’s riots.
After crossing over to Belarus near the southwestern city of Pinsk last August, Mr Neumann, 49, has formally applied for asylum, according to state media. Belarus authorities confirmed on Tuesday that the request had been granted by broadcasting images on Belta, the state news agency, where Mr Neumann, 49, formally signed an immigration document.
“Now you are completely under the protection of the Republic of Belarus,” said an official identified by Belta as Yuriy Brazinskiy, an immigration officer in Brest, the city where Mr Neumann lives. The status was valid for “indefinite time,” Brazinskiy said.
Mr Neumann said he was grateful but called the experience “bittersweet, like eating cranberries.”
But, he added: “I feel safe in Belarus, especially compared to my compatriots in America.”
The FBI said in an email that Mr. Neumann was still wanted, but declined to comment further.
The tiny Eastern European nation has been led for nearly three decades by Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, who has used his power to forcibly crush thousands of people protesting a 2020 election that many Western countries call rigged. His main political opponent was forced to flee the country, and human rights groups have criticized the government for its impunity in persecuting journalists and opponents.
Last year, Mr Lukashenko ordered the interception of a Ryanair flight over Belarusian airspace with a prominent dissident journalist on board, an act condemned by some European countries as a “state hijack”.
Mr. Neumann, who owns a bag factory and according to prosecutors has lived in Mill Valley, California, said in previous interviews with Belarusian state media that friends had warned him that he was on the FBI’s most wanted list.
In documents filed with the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, prosecutors said body camera images of police officers showed Mr. Neumann verbally abusing police officers.
“I’m ready to die, are you?” he said apparently to an officer. He also used his hands and fists to punch a police officer through a metal barricade before using the barricade as a battering ram aimed at officers, the documents said. And he resisted orders to leave the Capitol steps, the indictment said, using expletives to refer to police officers.
Mr Neumann has denied beating officers or committing crimes, saying in interviews with Belarusian state media that he traveled to Europe on a business trip last February, passing through several European countries before settling in Ukraine, a country he had previously visited, for four months.
But he felt that the Ukrainian authorities were following him, he said, and decided to go to Belarus, which he described as “against the West”.
He said his new status in Belarus meant he could now travel to other parts of the country, including the capital Minsk, but would settle in Brest. “I started a life here,” he said.