KIEV, Ukraine (NWN). According to a human rights group, the Belarusian authorities searched the homes of dozens of journalists and activists on Wednesday. It was the largest one-day crackdown on dissent in three months.
According to the human rights center Viasna, phones and computers were seized from independent journalists, human rights defenders and activists in at least nine large cities of Belarus during a search, and they were interrogated.
In the capital Minsk, authorities pursued 10 people accused of financing anti-government protests and disseminating information deemed extremist.
Some 300 chats on the popular messaging app Telegram have been declared extremist by the authorities, and users of these chats could face up to 7 years in prison if charged and convicted.
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Freelance journalist Larisa Shchirakova said she was brought in for questioning after hours of searches at her home in Gomel, a city 300 kilometers southeast of Minsk. Shchirakova worked with the Belsat TV channel, which the Belarusian authorities declared extremist.
“They pressured me to confess to funding the protests, but I refused to make a reservation,” Shchirakova told the Associated Press by telephone. “They took my phone, audio and video equipment, which were still in my house after two previous raids.”
On Wednesday, activists and journalists in Brest, Vitebsk, Mogilev, Grodno, Mozyr and other cities were subjected to similar raids and detentions. The leaders of the regional branches of the United Civil Party, the oldest opposition party in Belarus, in Gomel and Rechitsa were also persecuted.
“The new wave of repressions shows that the authorities in Belarus do not feel confident and are forced to tighten the screws, because discontent in the country is growing,” party leader Anatol Lyabedzka told NWN by telephone from Vilnius.
“The situation with civil liberties and human rights in Belarus is rapidly deteriorating, approaching North Korean standards,” Lebedko said.
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Belarus’s authoritarian leader, President Alexander Lukashenko, has endured months of unprecedented mass protests over his re-election in August 2020 in a vote that opposition and Western countries condemned as fiction.
Lukashenko launched a brutal crackdown on demonstrators: police arrested more than 35,000 people and beat thousands.
Following last year’s elections, Lukashenko’s government has shut down most of the independent media and human rights groups.
According to human rights activists, 889 political prisoners, including leading opposition activists, remain behind bars in Belarus.