In what rights activists are calling a new crackdown on opponents of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, security officers raided the offices and homes of independent journalists and human rights activists for the third consecutive day.
Both Radio Free Europe and United States broadcaster Radio Liberty were among those targeted in Friday’s raid in the capital of Minsk. Officials broke down doors, confiscated equipment and sealed the office’s main entrance. Two journalists working for the American station were detained.
Police also raided the homes of several local reporters and a journalist from a Polish TV channel Belsat. Eleven students and one teacher were sentenced to lengthy prison terms and accused of violating public order at their Minsk universities, with most receiving two and a half year prison terms.
In all, 32 journalists have been arrested by the Belarus security forces, still known by their Soviet-era moniker as the KGB. Security forces have searched the premises of a further 20 human rights organisations, media outlets and other institutions.
Western politicians, international human rights activists and Lithuania-based Belarusian protest leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya have all condemned the actions.
“One by one, the regime destroys every media that dares to tell the truth about the situation in Belarus,” declared Tsikhanouskaya via Twitter.
Since Lukashenko’s disputed re-election to a sixth term in August 2020, Belarus has been beset by months of opposition protests. Many in the opposition, and throughout Western Europe, claim the election was rigged.
More than 35,000 people have been detained since the beginning of this most recent crackdown, with many leading opposition figures being either arrested or forced into exile. The EU and the US have responded by imposing sanctions on Belarus, with the British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announcing that the UK condemns an “escalation in repression.”
“I am deeply alarmed at the latest developments in Belarus,” affirmed the United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet in a statement, “such a crackdown is completely unacceptable.” In the same statement, Bachelet charged Belarus authorities with showing “blatant disregard…for their obligations under international human rights law.”
The state-run Belta news agency quoted Vladimir Shyshko, an official at Belarus’ Investigative Committee, as saying the committee had acted on information about “a shadow movement of significant financial resources, primarily from abroad, tax evasion and financing of various kinds of protest activity.”
Non-governmental organizations and independent media have dismissed accusations of wrongdoing.