KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Belarusian authorities on Tuesday raided homes and offices of journalists and human rights activists and detained dozens in the latest move to squelch protests against the nation’s authoritarian president.
Police searched the offices of the Belarusian Association of Journalists and the Viasna human rights center as well as the apartments of its members. More than 30 people were detained, according to activists.
Europe’s top human rights envoy denounced the searches and detentions in Belarus as unacceptable.
“Freedoms of expression, association and assembly should be ensured according to international human rights standards,” the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, Dunja Mijatovic, said on Twitter.
The leader of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, Andrei Bastunets, is among the detainees.
“This is the largest crackdown ever on journalists and rights activists Europe has ever seen,” said the association’s vice president, Boris Goretsky, whose home was also searched Tuesday. “There have been more than 400 detentions of journalists over the last six months, and the authorities aren’t going to stop at that.”
At least 10 of them have faced criminal charges and remained in custody.
The authorities on Tuesday also raided the head office of the Viasna human rights center in Minsk and searched the apartments of several of its activists in other cities across Belarus.
“This is an attempt to intimidate journalists and human rights activists who have been telling the world about the unbelievable scale of repressions,” said Viasna activist Valiantsin Stefanovich.
Belarus has been rocked by protests ever since official results from the Aug. 9 presidential election gave President Alexander Lukashenko a sixth term by a landslide. The main opposition candidate, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, and her supporters have dismissed the result as rigged, and some poll workers also have described voting manipulation.
Authorities have responded to protests, the biggest of which attracted up to 200,000 people, with a sweeping crackdown. According to human rights advocates, more than 30,000 people have been detained since the protests began, and thousands of them were brutally beaten.
The Investigative Committee, the nation’s top state investigative agency, said that Tuesday’s searches are part of a probe into financing the protests.
Tsikhanouskaya denounced the raids and detentions of journalists and rights activists, saying Tuesday that “the regime is unleashing repressions against those who are championing human rights.”