Disgraced shot putter Nadezhda Ostapchuk has backed down over Belarus' protests against President Alexander Lukashenko and urged dissidents to come home ©ONT

Shot putter Nadezhda Ostapchuk has encouraged dissidents to return to Belarus following President Alexander Lukashenko's latest decree to allow protestors to come home - distancing herself from the 2020 and 2021 democracy demonstrations.

Speaking to state-owned television channel ONT on the Markov. Nothing Personal show, the 42-year-old explained why she was at the protests.

"I went out for company, to talk with the guys, to walk around," Ostapchuk, stripped of two Olympic, including gold at London 2012, and three world medals for doping during her career, said.

"Therefore, partly my decision, partly succumbed to some kind of influence. 

"Now you understand this, and when you are in the thick of things, when there are no alternative points of view, it accumulates, and you make an emotional decision.

"Over time, the passions subsided, and you understand what you did. 

"It is clear that you went, it is illegal, the rally was not authorised."

Lukashenko, often called the "last dictator in Europe", faced great opposition after the 2020 Presidential election, where he won 81 per cent of the vote, with his closest opponent, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, receiving just over 10 per cent.

Electoral fraud was again alleged, with protests against the President, who has been Belarus' only leader since coming to power in 1994, leading to violence against demonstrators in Minsk and other parts of the nation.

Protestors waving the white-and-red flag, symbolic of a democratic Belarus, during the demonstrations ©Getty Images
Protestors waving the white-and-red flag, symbolic of a democratic Belarus, during the demonstrations ©Getty Images

Many Belarusians fled the country and athletes who spoke out against the regime were blacklisted by their National Federations, leading to the absence of Aliaksandra Ramanouskaya from national teams, having been detained for protesting against the election results.

Opponents to Lukashenko's new legislation will treat it with suspicion, with the President requiring criteria to be met for an individual to return safely to the country.

There is also a chance dissidents could be imprisoned on their return.

According to Lukashenko's decree, a commission is to review applications to return home, led by the country's prosecutor general.

Ministers, Members of Parliament and representatives of civil organisations are also to be involved with the commission.

Those eligible can appeal against their administrative offences or "protest-related crimes" in Belarus after January 1 2020 and have to be filed by December 23 this year. 

The decree specifies an individual must "repent of what they have committed, inform the commission that they are prepared to make a public apology upon return, compensate for the damage caused, comply with the Belarusian Constitution and laws, respect state symbols and national traditions, and consciously and actively fulfil civic duty".

There is then a three-month period for people to return to Belarus, assuming the commission approves the appeal.

Alexander Lukashenko's Government clamped down on protestors following the Presidential election ©Getty Images
Alexander Lukashenko's Government clamped down on protestors following the Presidential election ©Getty Images

Ostapchuk supported the head of state's latest move in the interview with ONT.

"The fact that Alexander Grigorievich [Lukashenko] took such a step and proposed such an initiative is my two-handed support, I fully support it," added the shot putter.

"If this allows people, people are actually already tired of this confrontation, to return home, hug their relatives, especially since we have holidays ahead of us, Easter, Radunitsa, go to the cemetery to visit relatives - this is a very good, correct, competent step.

"I think that all the same, it is necessary to be positive towards people, not to immediately look for enemies. 

"I think people who really want to come back, who didn't do anything wrong, will go anyway.

"Just trust, trust people who really changed their minds, realised. 

"Here you have a living example sitting in front of you.

"I did exactly the same thing as many of them."

During the protests, Ostapchuk joined former Presidential candidate Tsikhanouskaya on the Non-Governmental Organisation Coordination Council for the Transfer of Power, with an aim to peacefully transition power democratically.

Several members of the Coordination Council were arrested forcing the group to go into exile in Lithuania, where Tsikhanouskaya is still based.

Along with Russia, Belarus is mostly banned from international sport because of its support for Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine last year.