Today, the Belarusian authorities visibly stepped up their crackdown against civil society organizations and independent media with mass raids and interrogations of leading human rights defenders, journalists and trade union leaders. Responding to the escalating reprisals against dissenters, Aisha Jung, Amnesty International’s Senior Campaigner on Belarus said:
“Having imprisoned or forcibly exiled practically anyone associated with the political opposition in the country, the Belarusian authorities have now set their sights on human rights defenders and journalists whose only crime has been to document the wave of gross human rights violations committed by security forces following last August’s contested presidential election.
“This is clearly a centrally-organized and targeted attempt to decimate the country’s independent media and human rights organizations through terrifying home raids, harassment and persecution. The authorities are bent on preventing them and discouraging others from carrying out their critical and legitimate human rights and journalistic work. The shocking and unprecedented lawlessness that we have witnessed from the state since last year flies in the face of widespread international concern and criticism.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms these brazen attacks under totally false premises and call for all those detained solely for the peaceful exercise of their human rights to be immediately and unconditionally released. People in Belarus and the international community will continue to do all we can to stand for human rights and counter the authorities’ tightening stranglehold over Belarusian civil society.”
Police began their raids early in the morning of 16 February on the offices and homes of staff members of the Viasna Human Rights Center, the Belarusian Association of Journalists, the REP independent trade union and dozens of civil society activists.
The raids were carried out in Minsk, Homel, Mahilyou, Vitsebsk and Brest as part of unfounded criminal proceedings under Article 342 of the Criminal Code of Belarus (“organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order”), which the authorities launched to target activists and monitors of mass peaceful protests. According to Belarus’ Investigative Committee, the investigation is aimed at “establishing the circumstances of the financing of protest activities.”