Belarus launches new crackdown on activists, journalists

LVIV, Ukraine (AP) — The authorities in Belarus have conducted a new wave of searches and arrests of union activists and independent journalists, a leading human rights group said Wednesday.

At least 16 people have been arrested in Minsk, Grodno, Borisov and other Belarusian cities, according to the Viasna human rights center.

Alexander Yaroshuk, the president of the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions and another top union leader, Alexander Bukhvostov, were among those arrested. The accusations against them haven’t been made public.

Belarusian authorities have declared several unions as “extremist” organizations shortly before the arrests.

Siarhei Cherachen, a former presidential candidate, said that security officers dressed in black uniforms broke doors into the union office and kept those who were inside standing against the wall for several hours during the search.

“It’s a new mopping-up operation against civil society,” he said.

The Belarusian Association of Journalists said that Aksana Kolb, the editor of the independent Novy Chas newspaper, was also detained on Wednesday.

The Belarusian authorities have conducted a relentless, multi-pronged crackdown on dissent following the massive anti-government protests that erupted after President Alexander Lukashenko was handed a sixth term, after an August 2020 presidential vote that was denounced as rigged by the opposition and the West.

Belarusian authorities responded with a wave of repression that saw more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten by police. At least 1,127 people currently behind bars have been designated as political prisoners by human rights groups.

Lukashenko has held on to power amid bruising Western sanctions, relying on support from his main ally and sponsor Russia, which used Belarusian territory to launch an invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.

“Lukashenko is using repression to try to keep the situation under control as he faces growing discontent over the involvement in the war in Ukraine and a quick drop in living standards due to the sanctions,” Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the main opposition candidate in the 2020 vote, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “But the Belarusians are continuing to protest even in these conditions.”

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