Alyaksandr Mantsevich, editor of the Regionalnaya Gazeta (regional newspaper), and journalists Zoya Khrutskaya and Nasta Utkina, were arrested, said the Belarusian Association of Journalists, or BAJ.
They were taken into custody after a search of the newspaper’s office in Maladzyechna, 80 kilometers (50 miles) northeast of the Belarusian capital, Minsk.
BAJ said a total of 64 searches were conducted in the past 10 days. Thirty-two journalists in total are in detention, awaiting trial or serving their sentences.
“The authorities have turned the lives of independent journalists into hell in Belarus with a treadmill of searches and arrests,” said Andrei Bastunets, director of the BAJ. “We get the impression that the authorities have decided to leave the country without journalists.
On Monday, authorities also froze the bank accounts of the Belarusian PEN Center, a writers’ association headed by Svetlana Alexievich, the 2015 Nobel Prize winner for literature.
Alexievich, a member of the Opposition Coordination Council, left Belarus last year after being summoned for questioning by the state investigative agency.
On Monday, a Minsk court also handed down prison terms ranging from five to nine years to 11 people accused of coordinating “radical actions” and planning an arson attack on a messaging app.
One of them, 26-year-old Yevgeny Propolsky, who was sentenced to eight years in prison, said at trial that investigators beat and tortured him to force confession.
“They threatened, beat and tortured me with electric current,” Propolsky said. “They forced me to write a denominational testimony. “
Human rights center Viasna recognized the 11 people sentenced on Monday as political prisoners, saying there are currently 562 in total in the country.
Viasna said Monday’s searches targeted civil society activists and human rights defenders in the cities of Brest and Pinsk in western Belarus.
Belarus was rocked by months of protests after President Alexander Lukashenko was elected in August 2020 for a sixth term in a vote that the opposition and the West saw as rigged.
Political instability, sanctions
Belarusian authorities responded to opposition protests with massive repression, including police beating thousands of protesters and arresting more than 35,000 people.
Opposition figures have been jailed or forced to leave the country, while independent media have had their offices searched and their journalists arrested.
The West has responded to the crackdown by imposing sanctions on Belarus.
Last month, the United States, the European Union, Britain and Canada jointly imposed new sanctions on Belarus after a Ryanair passenger flight was grounded in Minsk under the pretext of a threat for safety, the authorities having arrested an opposition journalist and his girlfriend who were on board.
The government of neighboring Lithuania has accused Belarusian authorities of organizing a flow of migrants from the Middle East and Africa in retaliation.
Lukashenko, who ordered an end to cooperation with the EU to stem illegal immigration, said on Monday Belarus could contain the flow of migrants if the bloc rolls back sanctions.
“They introduced sanctions to strangle us,” Lukashenko said. “They are taking such measures against the Belarusian people and they want us to protect them – listen, this is really weird. If you want us to help you, don’t put a noose around our neck.
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Lukashenko’s main challenger in the August 2020 elections, was forced to leave Belarus under official pressure immediately after the vote.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Tikhanovskaya on Monday, who called for more pressure on the regime which she said rigged last year’s election.
Blinken joined a meeting between Tikhanovskaya and State Department number three Victoria Nuland, known as a forceful critic of Moscow, in support of a day before the Belarusian opposition leader met at the White House.