Belarus raids human rights activists and journalists

Kiev, Ukraine (AP) – Authorities in Belarus on Wednesday raided the offices and homes of dozens of human rights activists and journalists in a raid just a day after the country’s authoritarian president promised to deal with non-governmental organizations he accused of unrest stir up.

Police officers searched the homes of several lawyers in the well-known human rights center Viasna, as well as offices of other Belarusian NGOs and the homes of activists and journalists in various regions of the former Soviet state.

More than 40 raids took place across the country.

“Belarus has activated the most massive assembly line of repression in the country’s recent history,” Andrei Bastunets, head of the Belarusian Union of Journalists, told The Associated Press after the group’s Minsk office was raided on Wednesday morning.

The renowned Viasna Center has been monitoring human rights in Belarus for a quarter of a century. Authorities stripped him of his certification in 2003 and his guide, Ales Bialiatski, was arrested in 2012 and spent two years behind bars.

Baliatski’s whereabouts were unknown during Wednesday’s raids on Viasna on Wednesday.

The Belarusian Helsinki Committee, the World Federation of Belarusians, the For Freedom Movement and the Gender Perspectives Association were among the other targets of the raids.

According to Viasna, journalists and human rights activists were also caught in the raids in the cities of Orsh, Grodno, Brest and other targets.

Last week the authorities carried out more than 30 raids against journalists and media organizations in the capital Minsk and other regions. Seven journalists were arrested, including those who work for the Nasha Niva newspaper, which is banned by the authorities. A total of 39 journalists are currently behind bars, either waiting for court hearings or being sentenced to prison terms.

The Belarusian State Security Committee – the KGB – announced earlier this month that it was conducting a large-scale operation to “purge radically-minded people”.

On Tuesday, President Alexander Lukashenko promised to bring 1,500 NGOs and journalists to justice who he claimed were “funded from abroad”. During his visit to Moscow on Tuesday, he alleged that West-funded organizations are stirring up unrest and condemned their alleged actions.

“We have started to deal very actively with all the NGOs that effectively promote terror instead of democracy,” said Lukashenko.

Belarus was rocked by months of protests after Lukashenko was elected to a sixth term in August 2020 in a controversial vote widely believed to be rigged.

The Belarusian authorities reacted to the protests with massive crackdown, including beating thousands of demonstrators and arresting more than 35,000 people. Opposition leaders have been detained or forced to leave the country while independent media offices were raided and their journalists arrested.

Sviatlana Tsikhaouskaya, Lukashenko’s greatest challenger in the August 2020 elections, who had to leave Belarus and is in exile in Lithuania, tweeted on Wednesday that Lukashenko wanted to “devastate the whole country”.

“The regime continues its massive attack on human rights defenders, activists and journalists,” wrote Tsikhanouskaya.

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