The Belarusian authorities raided the office of an independent newspaper on Monday and arrested three journalists as part of a ruthless crackdown on media organizations and civil society activists.
The Association of Belarusian Journalists (BAJ) stated that the editor of Regionalnaya Gazeta (regional newspaper) Alyaksandr Mantsevich and journalists Zoya Khrutskaya and Nasta Utkina were detained.
They were detained after searching the newspaper office in Maladzyechna, 80 kilometers (50 miles) northeast of the Belarusian capital Minsk.
BAJ stated that there have been 64 searches in the past 10 days. A total of 32 journalists have been detained, either awaiting trial or are serving their sentences.
Andrei Bastunets, the head of BAJ, said: “The authorities have turned the lives of independent journalists in Belarus into hell through a conveyor belt of searches and arrests.” Leave this country without a reporter.”
On Monday, the authorities also froze the bank accounts of the Belarusian PEN Center, an association of writers led by the 2015 Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alekseyevich.
Alekseyevich, a member of the opposition coordination committee, left Belarus last year after being summoned for questioning by the state investigation agency.
On Monday, a Minsk court also sentenced 11 people to prison terms ranging from 5 to 9 years. These people were accused of coordinating “radical actions” and planning arson on the messaging app.
One of them, Yevgeny Propolsky, 26, who was sentenced to 8 years in prison, said during the trial that investigators beat and tortured him to extract a confession.
“They threatened me, beat and tortured me with electric current,” Propolsky said. “They forced me to write a confession testimony.”
The Viasna Human Rights Center recognized 11 people sentenced on Monday as political prisoners, saying there are currently 562 people in the country.
Viasna said Monday’s search targeted civil society activists and human rights defenders in the city of Brest and Pinsk in western Belarus.
After Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko was elected for his sixth term in August 2020 in a vote deemed rigged by the opposition and the West, months of protests shocked Belarus.
Political instability, sanctions
The Belarusian authorities carried out a massive suppression of opposition demonstrations, including police beating thousands of demonstrators and arresting more than 35,000 people.
Major opposition figures were imprisoned or forced to leave the country, while independent media organizations’ offices were searched and their reporters arrested.
The West responded to the repression by imposing sanctions on Belarus.
The U.S., EU, U.K., and Canada jointly imposed new sanctions on Belarus last month After the grounding of a Ryanair airliner In Minsk, the authorities arrested an opposition journalist and his girlfriend under the pretext of security threats.
The government of neighboring Lithuania accused the Belarusian authorities of organizing the movement of migrants from the Middle East and Africa in retaliation.
Lukashenko, who has ordered the cessation of cooperation with the EU to prevent illegal immigration, said on Monday that Belarus may curb the flow of immigration if the EU lifts sanctions.
Lukashenko said: “They took sanctions to kill us.” “They took such actions against the people of Belarus, and they want us to protect them — listen, it’s really weird. If you want us to help you, just Don’t put a noose around our necks.”
Lukashenko’s main challenger in the August 2020 general election, Svyatlana Zihanusskaya, was forced to leave Belarus immediately after the vote.
U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Brinken met with Tikhanovskaya on Monday, who urged greater pressure on what she said was the regime that manipulated last year’s elections.
Brinken participated in the meeting between Tikhanovskaya and the No. 3 figure in the State Department, Victoria Nuland, who is known for his strong criticism of Moscow. The leader of the Belarusian opposition held a meeting at the White House Expressed support the day before.