KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — An American who faces criminal charges for participating in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol is seeking asylum in Belarus, the country’s state TV reported on Monday — a move that may further heighten the tensions between the turbulent ex-Soviet nation and the United States.
The man, Evan Neumann, 48, of California, acknowledged in an interview with state TV channel Belarus 1 that he was at the Capitol on Jan. 6 but rejected the charges, which include assaulting police, obstruction and other offenses. The channel aired excerpts of the interview on Sunday and promised to release the full version on Wednesday.
“I don’t think I have committed some kind of a crime,” Neumann said, according to a Belarus 1 voiceover of his interview remarks. “One of the charges was very offensive; it alleges that I hit a police officer. It doesn’t have any grounds to it.” Neumann spoke in English but was barely audible under the dubbed Russian.
U.S. court documents state that Neumann stood at the front of a police barricade wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat as a mob of pro-Trump rioters tried to force past officers. Prosecutors say Neumann taunted and screamed at the police before putting a gas mask over his face and threatened one officer, saying police would be “overrun” by the crowd.
“I’m willing to die, are you?” prosecutors quoted Neumann saying to the officer.
Police body camera footage shows Neumann and others shoving a metal barricade into a line of officers who were trying to push the crowd back before he punches two officers with his fist and then hits them with the barricade, according to court papers.
Neumann was identified by investigators after someone who said they were a family friend called an FBI tip line with Neumann’s name and hometown of Mill Valley, California. He was charged in a U.S. federal criminal complaint, meaning a judge agreed that investigators presented sufficient probable cause that Neumann had committed the crimes.
Neumann is one of more than 650 people who have been charged for their actions on Jan. 6, when the pro-Trump mob attacked the Capitol building and delayed Congress’ certification of Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory.
Neumann told Belarus 1 that his photo had been added to the FBI’s most wanted list, after which he left the country under the pretense of a business trip. Neuman, who owns a handbag manufacturing business, traveled to Italy in March, and then through Switzerland, Germany and Poland he got to Ukraine and spent several months there.
He said he decided to illegally cross into the neighboring Belarus after he noticed surveillance by Ukraine’s security forces. “It is awful. It is political persecution,” Neumann told the TV channel.
Belarusian border guards detained the American when he tried to cross into the country in mid-August, and he requested asylum in Belarus. Belarus doesn’t have an extradition treaty with the U.S.
The U.S. embassy in Belarus declined to comment. The U.S. Department of Justice said it doesn’t comment “on the existence or non-existence of requests for apprehension to foreign governments.”
The Belarus 1 anchors described Neumann as a “simple American, whose stores were burned down by members of the Black Lives Matter movement, who was seeking justice, asking inconvenient questions, but lost almost everything and is being persecuted by the U.S. government.”
In a short preface to the interview, the Belarus 1 reporter also said that “something” made Neumann “flee from the country of fairytale freedoms and opportunities” — an apparent snub towards the U.S., which has levied multiple sanctions against Belarus over human rights abuses and violent crackdown on dissent.
Belarus was rocked by huge months-long protests after election officials gave authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko a sixth term in the August 2020 presidential election that the opposition and the West have denounced as a sham.
Lukashenko’s government unleashed a violent crackdown on the protesters, arresting more than 35,000 people and badly beating thousands of them. The crackdown elicited widespread international outrage.
Associated Press writer Mike Balsamo in Washington contributed to this report.