Belarus Holds Over 40 Raids on Journalists, Human Rights Activists

Over 40 raids took place in Belarus as authorities entered the homes of human rights activists and journalists on Wednesday. The raids occurred a day after President Alexander Lukashenko promised to "deal with" non-governmental organizations (NGOs) he accused of stirring up unrest.

Among those targeted were the homes of several advocates at the Viasna human rights center, offices of other Belarusian NGOs, and residences of activists and journalists in various regions, the Associated Press reported.

"The most massive assemble line of repressions in the country's modern history has been activated in Belarus," Andrei Bastunets, head of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, told the AP after the group's office was raided Wednesday morning.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Over 40 Raids Take Place in Belarus
Belarusians living in Poland and Poles supporting them hold up a placard reading 'Freedom to Roman Protasevich' during a demonstration in front of the European Commission office in Warsaw on May 24, 2021. Over 40 raids took place on Wednesday, July 14, as the governments seeks out human rights activists and journalists that stir up unrest. Wojtek Radwanski/Getty Images

The renowned Viasna center has been monitoring human rights in Belarus for a quarter-century. Authorities revoked its credentials in 2003 and its leader, Ales Bialiatski, was arrested in 2012 and spent two years behind bars.

In the midst of Wednesday's raids targeting Viasna on Wednesday, Bialiatski's whereabouts were unknown.

Other organizations targeted in the raids included the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, the World Association of Belarusians, the For Freedom movement and the Gender Perspectives association.

According to Viasna, journalists and rights activists in cities of Orsh, Grodno, Brest and others were also targeted in raids.

Last week, authorities conducted more than 30 raids targeting journalists and media organizations in the capital Minsk and other regions. Seven journalists have been detained, including those working for the Nasha Niva newspaper which has been banned by the authorities. A total of 39 journalists are currently behind bars, either awaiting court appearances or convicted to prison terms.

Belarus' State Security Committee — the KGB — announced earlier this month it was conducting a large-scale operation to "purge radically-minded individuals."

On Tuesday, Lukashenko promised to bring to justice 1,500 NGOs and journalists he alleged were "funded from abroad." He claimed during his visit to Moscow on Tuesday that Western-funded organizations were fomenting unrest and denounced their alleged actions.

"We have started to work very actively to deal with all those NGOs, ... which were effectively promoting terror instead of democracy," Lukashenko said.

Belarus was rocked by months of protests after Lukashenko's August 2020 election to a sixth term in a disputed vote that was widely seen as rigged.

Belarusian authorities responded to the protests with a massive crackdown, including police beating thousands of demonstrators and arresting more than 35,000 people. Leading opposition figures have been jailed or forced to leave the country, while independent media outlets have had their offices searched and their journalists arrested.

Sviatlana Tsikhaouskaya, Lukashenko's main challenger in the August 2020 election, who was forced to leave Belarus and is in exile in Lithuania, tweeted Wednesday that Lukashenko "wants to desolate the whole country."

"The regime continues its massive attack on human rights defenders, activists, journalists," Tsikhanouskaya wrote.

Over 40 Raids Take Place in Belarus
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko listens to Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, Tuesday, July 13, 2021. Putin has hosted the leader of Belarus, who has increasingly relied on Moscow's support amid increasing tensions with the West. Lukashenko thanked Putin for a "very serious support from Russia" and pledged that his country will duly repay its loans. Alexei Nikolsky/Associated Press