The European country of Belarus has had the attention of the international community in recent months after its tumultuous and allegedly fraudulent presidential election last year. On Tuesday, Belarusian authorities reportedly raided the offices and homes of journalists and human rights activists. This is the latest action taken to put down protests against authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko.
The Associated Press reported:
Police searched the offices of the Belarusian Association of Journalists and the Viasna human rights center as well as the apartments of its members, confiscating their equipment. More than 30 people were briefly detained, and at least three remained in police custody, according to activists.
The Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, Dunja Mijatovic, spoke out against the actions on Twitter, calling them “unacceptable. Freedoms of expression, association & assembly shld be ensured…”
Harassment thru searches, arrests & criminal prosecution of journalists & #humanrightsdefenders, incl. @coe & @un partners in #Belarus are unacceptable. Freedoms of expression, association & assembly shld be ensured according to intl #humanrights standards. #BAJ #Viasna #disright
— Commissioner for Human Rights (@CommissionerHR) February 16, 2021
The Belarusian Association of Journalists had its members targeted, as well. Its leader, Andrei Bastunets, was one of the people detained and then released. The association’s Vice President, Boris Goretsky, had his home searched. He responded to the events, saying, “This is the largest crackdown ever on journalists and rights activists Europe has ever seen…There have been more than 400 detentions of journalists over the last six months, and the authorities aren’t going to stop at that.” At least 10 journalists reportedly face criminal charges and are still in custody.
According to the Minsk-based Viasna Human Rights Center, more than 30,000 people have been detained since the protests first broke out in August, and thousands of them have been brutally beaten in custody. At least four people have purportedly died.
This morning has started with a new wave of repressions around Belarus. Lukashenka's thugs are searching @viasna96 offices, flats of members of the independent @baj_by, and BYSOL fund founder parents' house. This is total lawlessness and crisis of human rights in Belarus. pic.twitter.com/uuH9htKTEi
— Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya (@Tsihanouskaya) February 16, 2021
Last year, the United States introduced sanctions against “individuals and entities who are responsible for, or have participated in, actions or policies that undermine democratic processes or institutions in Belarus,” according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
On Tuesday, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) also spoke out against the actions and demanded that the officials stop the oppression of journalists.