Belarus targets journalists, activists in new raids

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Police carry documents and computers out of the office of the Belarusian Association of Journalists as Andrei Bastunets, the head the Association, right, stands inside the office in Minsk, Belarus, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. Authorities in Belarus have raided the homes and offices of journalists and human rights activists. It is the latest move aimed at squelching a wave of demonstrations against authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko. Police searched the offices of the Belarusian Association of Journalists and the Viasna human rights center, as well as the apartments of its members. (AP Photo)

KYIV – Authorities in Belarus raided homes and offices of journalists and human rights activists Tuesday in the latest move to squelch protests against authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko.

Police searched the offices of the Belarusian Association of Journalists and the Viasna human rights center as well as the apartments of its members, confiscating their equipment. More than 30 people were briefly detained, and at least three remained in police custody, 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, was one of those detained and later released.

"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 also was searched. “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 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, including the group's head, Ales Bialiatski.