The longtime leader of Belarus promised on Thursday that he would continue the repression against civil society activists, whom he considers “bandits and foreign agents”.
KIEV, Ukraine – The longtime leader of Belarus vowed on Thursday to continue repressing civil society activists he considers “bandits and foreign agents”.
President Alexander Lukashenko objected to officials in his administration for allowing the work of NGOs, which he called “harmful to the state.”
“A clean-up operation is underway,” Lukashenko said. “Do you think it’s easy?” Thousands of our people work for them, and their brains are distorted and brainwashed with foreign money. “
Belarusian authorities have stepped up raids and arrests of independent journalists and civil society activists in recent weeks.
The Viasna Human Rights Center said law enforcement agencies in the country have conducted more than 200 searches of the offices and apartments of journalists and activists so far this month. The center said authorities arrested 11 activists on Thursday.
The Belarusian Association of Journalists said authorities raided the apartment of freelance journalist Tanja Smotkina in the town of Hlybokaye for the second time this month and detained her for questioning on charges of “inciting conflict”.
A journalist who worked for the US-funded RFE / RL show, who was arrested last week, Ina Studzinskaya, went on a hunger strike on Thursday to protest authorities that did not allow her access to her lawyer, the journalists’ association said.
Deputy head of the association Boris Gorecki said Studzinskaya was kept in a cell without a mattress where the lights were kept day and night.
A total of 31 Belarusian journalists are in custody awaiting trial or serving a sentence.
The justice ministry on Wednesday asked the country’s highest court to close the Belarusian Association of Journalists over alleged deficiencies in office lease documents. BAJ said it could not provide the necessary documents to respond to the complaints because its headquarters was sealed by a police raid last week.
On Thursday, the ministry also appealed to the court to close the Belarusian PEN Center, a writers’ association led by Svetlana Alexievich, winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize for Literature.
Alexievich, a member of the opposition Coordination Council in Belarus, left the country last year after being summoned for questioning by the state investigation agency.
Earlier this week, authorities froze the PEN Center’s bank accounts.
“The closure of the PEN center reflects the overall catastrophic situation in the country with authorities trying to silence everything immediately,” organization deputy head Taciana Niadbaj told the Associated Press in a telephone interview from Minsk. “But even in this atmosphere of fear and repression, we will continue to fight and complain about the government’s move.”
Mr Lukashenko, who faced months of protests sparked by his election to a sixth term in the August 2020 vote, which the opposition and the West considered rigged, responded to the demonstrations with comprehensive actions in which more than 35,000 people were arrested and thousands beaten by police.
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Lukashenko’s main challenger, was forced to leave Belarus under official pressure after the election. She visited the United States this week in meetings with Biden administration officials and U.S. lawmakers to gather support for the Belarusian opposition.
“When you look me in the eye, you will see the eyes of every political prisoner, every activist, every Belarusian who wants to live in a free country,” Cikhanouskaya told members of the US Congress.