Belarusian regime intensifies “purge” of activists and media

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Belarusian regime intensifies “purge” of activists and media


Aleysa Ivanova wakes up every morning wondering when will knock on her door.

“You understand that you can be next. Every day I wake up, I think it might be tomorrow, maybe today. Maybe they will come and get me tonight, ”said Ivanova (not her real name).

As a journalist in Belarus, his reporting on the country is seen as a threat to the regime of Alexander Lukashenko. Ivanova said the crackdown has intensified in recent weeks, with daily reports of someone else being held by state security forces.

Since July, there has been a state-sponsored erasure of civil society and media organizations across Belarus, activists said.

Between July 14 and 16, more than 60 searches were carried out at the homes and offices of Belarusian human rights organizations and their staff, including Viasna, Human Constanta, Legal Initiative, as well as the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, Belarusian Association of Journalists and many others. Documents and computer equipment, including laptops, cell phones and computers, were seized during the searches.

Earlier, on July 8-9 and 16, authorities also raided the homes and premises of independent media and their staff and arrested several journalists. More than 30 media professionals and dozens of bloggers remain in prison.

Belarusian police raided a private building, allegedly looking for journalists and protesters, during a rally against the Lukashenko regime. Photograph: EPA

On July 23, Amnesty International reported that at least 46 human rights organizations and other civil society organizations in Belarus had been closed. Activists now say around 100 organizations have had to shut down.

“It’s more than just repression,” said Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch. “In a government meeting on July 22, President Lukashenko shamelessly described the decision to shut down dozens of civil society groups as a ‘purge’ – and it is what it is, a mop up large-scale vicious aimed at gutting critical voices. ”

Over the past year, according to the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and Viasna, a Belarusian organization that documents torture, at least 35,000 peaceful protesters have been arrested, there have been 4,691 documented court cases, 608 political prisoners and approximately 1,800 reports of torture. Hundreds of human rights activists have been persecuted and thousands have had to flee the country.

Police take papers and computers from the Belarusian Association of Journalists office as BAJ chief Andrei Bastunets, right, stands at the door. Photography: AP

Ilya Nuzov, head of the Eastern Europe and Central Asia office of FIDH, said that this worsening of the repression had probably been in preparation for months. “It’s not just all of a sudden. [The authorities] prepared diligently. It is a natural progression of the deteriorating human rights situation in the country.

In the face of such persecution, some human rights organizations, whose staff have managed to flee, continue their work abroad in neighboring countries of Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine. They remain defiant despite the bleak outlook.

Victoria Fedorova, a human rights lawyer and director of the Legal Initiative, fled Belarus in March after the arrest of one of her colleagues and the search of her home. She knew she would be next. She is now in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, but realizes that she is not safe there.

Vitaly Shishov, who ran Belarusian House, an organization that helped his compatriots escape, was found dead on Tuesday, hanging from a tree in a park in Kiev in what police are now treating as a murder investigation.

“Even when we fled in March, we understood that Ukraine was not safe,” Fedorova said. “We know that Belarusian security forces can kidnap people. The hijacking [when a Ryanair flight was forced to land in Minsk so the leading opposition activist and journalist Roman Protasevich could be detained] was very frightening because the regime showed a total disrespect for international and national law. They can do anything to detain dissidents.

The home of Natallia Satsunkevich, who works for Viasna, was raided in February while on vacation in Egypt. She did not return to Belarus and is now based abroad. Seven of his colleagues were arrested. She said that the conditions in the prison were now so bad that they amounted to torture. “There is no shower, you cannot walk around. You sleep on a metal bed without a pillow.

Belarusian women parading in the red and white colors of the old Belarusian flag in Minsk last month in solidarity with the hundreds of people detained.
Belarusian women parading in the colors of the old Belarusian flag in Minsk last month in solidarity with the hundreds of people detained. Photography: AFP / Getty

There were other activists who were still working secretly in Belarus but in the current climate of mass arrests, they were afraid, she added. “All day long they are in a nervous state but at the same time these people are really brave and will not stop. “

She added: “We will continue to work for all those people who need our help and for our colleagues who are imprisoned. “

Ivanova had her journalist accreditation revoked last year but continued her work. Many of his colleagues have fled the country or are in detention. She watches strange cars outside her window and doesn’t post anything on social media. Life at the moment was “depressing,” she said.

“Right now it’s very hard and it’s getting worse and worse. They arrest people every day, ”she said. “There is no stopping the repression.

“I understand that maybe they will come for me, but I want to stay in Belarus and work there. I’m trying to do my best to improve the situation.

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