Belarusian world champion swimmer Aliaksandra Herasimenia has sold her 2012 gold medal to raise funds to support opposition athletes, her foundation said on Wednesday.
Herasimenia, 35, launched the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation (BSSF) last August, as protests erupted against strongman President Alexander Lukashenko after he claimed a sixth term in a vote the opposition said was rigged.
The foundation provides financial and legal assistance to athletes targeted by the authorities after calling for an end to the violent police crackdown on demonstrators.
The BSSF said Herasimenia, who retired in 2019, had put up the gold medal she won in 50-metre freestyle at the 2012 World Championships for auction on eBay. It sold for $16,100, all of which would go to the foundation, it added.
"With this lot I wanted to support all Belarusians, give them 100 percent confidence in victory, because faith in victory is 90 percent of success," the BSSF statement quoted Herasimenia as saying.
She had decided to put the medal up for auction after the Investigative Committee, which probes major crimes in Belarus, launched a criminal case against her earlier this month, the statement added.
The committee charged Herasimenia with "actions aimed at harming the national security of the Republic of Belarus", an offence punishable by up to five years behind bars.
Herasimenia is currently in self-imposed exile in neighbouring Lithuania.
Herasimenia's gold medal sale follows earlier fund-raising efforts by two other athletes, who sold medals won at the 2019 Universiade and the 2007 European Championships, said the BSSF.
Belarus's violent crackdown on demonstrators has left several protesters dead and led to claims of torture by hundreds of people held in custody.
As a result, the ex-Soviet country has been stripped of this year's ice hockey world championship and Lukashenko has been banned from attending Olympic events.
Herasimenia, who in her career also won Olympic silver and bronze medals, has called for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to suspend Belarus.
In February, IOC President Thomas Bach raised the possibility of the Belarusian flag being banned from this summer's Tokyo Games as further punishment.