Wednesday, December 1

Belarusian regime intensifies “purge” of activists and media | Belarus


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

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

As a journalist in Belarus, his reports on the country are seen as a threat to Alexander Lukashenko’s regime. Ivanova said that the crackdown had increased in recent weeks, with reports every day that state security forces detained another person.

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

Between July 14 and 16, there were more than 60 searches of the homes and offices of Belarusian human rights organizations and their staff, including Viasna, Human constant, Legal initiative, just like him Helsinki Committee of Belarus, the Belarusian Journalists Association and many others. During the searches, documents and computer equipment, including laptops, mobile phones and computers, were seized.

Previously, on July 8, 9 and 16, the authorities also raided the houses and premises of independent media and their staff and detained several journalists. More than 30 media workers and dozens of bloggers remain in prison.

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

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

“This is much bigger than simple repression,” said Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch. “At a government meeting on July 22, President Lukashenko unapologetically described the decision to shut down dozens of civil society groups as ‘a purge,’ and that’s what it is, a vicious large-scale clean-up operation aimed at to gut the critical voices. “

During the last year, according to International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and Viasna, a Belarusian organization that documents torture, at least 35,000 peaceful protesters have been detained, there have been 4,691 documented criminal court cases, 608 political prisoners and around 1,800 complaints 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 office of the Belarusian Association of Journalists while Andrei Bastunets, right, head of the BAJ, stands at the door.
Police take papers and computers from the office of the Belarusian Association of Journalists while Andrei Bastunets, right, head of the BAJ, stands at the door. Photograph: AP

Ilya Nuzov, head of FIDH’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia office, said that this worsening repression had probably been in the works for months. “It is not just suddenly. [The authorities] they have been diligently preparing. It is a natural progression of the deterioration of the human rights situation in the country ”.

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

Victoria Fedorova, a human rights lawyer and director of the Legal Initiative, fled Belarus in March after one of her colleagues was arrested and her home searched. He knew she would be next. Now she is in the capital of Ukraine, 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 Kiev park in what police now treat as a murder investigation.

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

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

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

There were other activists still working secretly in Belarus, but in the current climate of mass arrests, they were scared, he added. “All day they are in a nervous state but at the same time these people are really brave and they don’t stop.”

He added: “We will continue working for all those people who need our help and for our colleagues who are imprisoned.”

Ivanova canceled her journalist credential last year, but has continued with her work. Many of his colleagues have fled the country or are in detention. She looks for strange cars outside her window and doesn’t post anything on social media. Life at the time was “depressing,” he said.

“Right now, it is very difficult and it is getting worse and worse. They arrest people every day, ”he said. “There is no stop in the repression.

“I understand that they may come for me, but I want to stay in Belarus and work there. I’m trying to do everything I can to improve the situation. “


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