Updated: February 16, 2021 8:08:43 pm
Police in Belarus carried out 22 raids on the homes and offices of journalists, human rights activists and trade union members on Tuesday. The raids were part of an investigation into mass anti-government protests, officials said.
The former Soviet nation has been gripped by weekend protests ever since strongman President Alexander Lukashenko claimed victory in a disputed election on August 9, 2020.
But authorities clamped down hard on the public resistance, detaining tens of thousands of demonstrators and opposition members.
Who was targeted?
The home of Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) chief Andrei Bastunets was raided. According tot he BAJ, Bastunets was detained by police, but later released.
The human rights organization Viasna also said it was targeted. Authorities seized phones and other devices, and several members were detained, the organization said in a statement.
Belarus justifies the raids
Belarus’s Investigative Committee, a body charged with probing major crimes, said they were part of a probe into the “organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order.”
“As part of a preliminary investigation to establish the circumstances of the financing of protest activities, investigators initiated searches on organizations positioning themselves as human rights defenders,” the Investigative Committee said in a statement.
Crackdown provokes anger
Harassment through searches, arrests and criminal prosecution of journalists and human rights defenders, including Council of Europe (CoE) and UN partners is unacceptable, tweeted the CoE’s Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic.
“Freedoms of expression, association and assembly should be ensured according to international human rights standards,” she added.
“A sad new climax of harassment against journalists has been reached” with the raids, Germany’s Journalist Union, the DJV said in a statement to DW. “The repression against independent media must end. Arrested journalists must immediately be released.”
Belarus’ anti-press stance
The government has come down hard on independent media during the anti-government protests.
Belarus canceled all accreditation for foreign journalistsin October 2020, in response to EU sanctions.
Police detained journalists a total of 477 times last year, according to the BAJ.
Several are now facing criminal charges.
Two journalists were due in court Tuesday on charges of organizing and preparing protests. The charges can carry a maximum penalty of three years in prison.
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