Security officers in Belarus have raided the offices and homes of independent journalists and human rights activists for the third successive day, extending what rights activists say is a new crackdown on opponents of longtime President Alexander Lukashenko.
The Poland-based Nexta Live channel said the office of United States broadcaster Radio Liberty in the capital, Minsk, was among those searched on Friday. Belarusian human rights organisation Viasna-96 reported that two Radio Liberty journalists had been detained.
Police officers also went to the homes of a journalist from Polish TV channel Belsat and those of several local reporters, Viasna-96 reported.
The authorities have shut down a number of non-state media outlets and human rights groups since protests began in August 2020 against a presidential election which the opposition says was rigged. The protests died down during the Belarusian winter in the wake of a violent crackdown that saw thousands of protesters detained, several killed and hundreds receive lengthy prison sentences for the unrest.
Lukashenko denies electoral fraud. In power since 1994, he claimed a sixth term in office with 80 percent of the vote in last year’s poll, according to official results.
On Wednesday and Thursday, security officials conducted searches on the premises of about 20 human rights, charitable, media and expert institutions, detaining more than 15 people, including the head of Viasna-96.
The searches and detentions have been condemned by Western politicians, international human rights activists and Belarusian protest leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who is based in Lithuania.
United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet slammed the escalating crackdown on Thursday.
“I am deeply alarmed at the latest developments in Belarus,” she said in a statement.
“Such a crackdown is completely unacceptable,” said Bachelet, accusing Belarus authorities of showing “blatant disregard … for their obligations under international human rights law”.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the United Kingdom condemns an “escalation in repression” in Belarus, and the European Union and the US have imposed sanctions on Belarus in recent months.