Independent news agency raids continue as Belarus steps up crackdowns

The Belarusian authorities raided the offices of several media companies outside the capital Minsk and raided the homes of independent journalists on July 9, the second day in a row against the independent press criticizing authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

The July 9 raidslargely held in the western city of Brest, came a day after the website of the country’s oldest newspaper, Nasha Niva, was blocked and its editor-in-chief was arrested and reportedly beaten while security forces raided the offices of several regional newspapers.

News agency offices were also raided in Baranovichi in the Brest region. The journalist Ruslan Ravyaka from the Baranowitschi news portal Intex-Press was arrested for questioning by the KGB, the Belarusian State Security Service, and later released.

The apartment of the journalist Tatsiana Smotkina in the northern city of Hlybokaye was searched, as was the apartment of the administrator of the news portal Virtual Brest, Andrey Kukharchyk. The broadcaster onliner Telegram reported that security forces also searched the apartment of their journalist Anastasia Zenko.

Konstantin Bychek, the head of the KGB’s investigative department, told state television that a “major action” was underway to exterminate “radicals”.

The Belarusian Union of Journalists reported that 32 media representatives had been detained since July 8th.

Nasha Niva editor-in-chief Yahor Martsinovich was beaten in a raid and sustained head injuries, the online publication reported on July 9.

The raids at the point of sale were carried out as part of an investigation into actions that grossly violated public order.

The latest raid came after authorities hit leading independent news outlet Tut.by in May, whose website was blocked and 12 of its journalists were arrested. Also in May, authorities intercepted a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius and forced it to land in Minsk, where they arrested opposition blogger Raman Pratasevich and his girlfriend who were on board.

Both Nasha Niva and Tut.by reported extensively on months of protests against Lukashenka, which were sparked by his re-election for a sixth term on August 9 in a vote widely regarded as rigged.

Since the elections, the security forces have cracked down on journalists, right defenders and pro-democracy protesters, arresting more than 35,000 people and driving many activists and most of the opposition leaders out of the country.

Several demonstrators were killed in the violence and some human rights organizations say there is credible evidence that security officials tortured some of the detainees.

Opposition leaders were either detained or forced to leave the country.

Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the main opposition candidate in the election, who claims she actually won the election, condemned the recent raids.

“Our independent journalists suffer violence, torture in prison for doing their job,” she wrote on Twitter on July 9th.

Western nations have imposed a wide variety of sanctions on Lukashenka and his regime for crackdown, but these have had limited impact as it continues to be backed by a key ally and financier, Russia.

With coverage from AFP

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