More Raids on Independent News Outlets as Belarus Steps up Crackdown

Belarusian authorities on Friday raided the offices of several media outlets outside Minsk and searched the homes of independent journalists, in the second straight day of the country’s latest crackdown on independent press critical of authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko.

The?raids, most of which took place in the western city of Brest, came a day after the website of the country’s oldest newspaper, Nasha Niva, was blocked and its chief editor was detained and reportedly beaten while security forces searched the offices of several regional newspapers.

Offices of news outlets were also raided in Baranovichi in the Brest region. Journalist Ruslan Ravyaka of the Baranovichi news portal Intex-Press was taken in for questioning by the KGB, the Belarusian state security agency, and was later released.

Journalist Tatsiana Smotkina’s home was raided in the northern city of Hlybokaye, as was the apartment of the administrator of the Virtual Brest news portal, Andrey Kukharchyk. The Onliner Telegram channel reported that security forces also searched the home of its journalist, Anastasia Zenko.

Search for ‘radicals’

Konstantin Bychek, the chief of the KGB’s investigative department, told state television that a “large-scale operation” was under way to root out “radicals.”

The Belarusian Association of Journalists reported that 32 media representatives have been detained since July 8.

Nasha Niva’s editor in chief, Yahor Martsinovich, was beaten and suffered head injuries while being detained in a raid, the publication reported Friday.

It said that the raids on the outlet were carried out as part of a probe into actions that grossly violated public order.

The latest crackdown came after authorities in May hit top independent news portal, whose website was blocked. Twelve of its journalists were arrested. Also in May, authorities intercepted a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius and forced it to land in Minsk where they detained dissident blogger Raman Pratasevich and his girlfriend, who were on board.

Both Nasha Niva and extensively covered months of protests against Lukashenko, which were triggered by his reelection to a sixth term on August 9 in a vote that was widely seen as rigged.

Since the election, security forces have cracked down hard on journalists, rights defenders and pro-democracy demonstrators, arresting more than 35,000 people and pushing many activists and most of the top opposition figures out of the country.

Killings, possible torture

Several protesters have been killed in the violence, and some rights organizations say there is credible evidence of torture being used by security officials against some of those detained.

Leading opposition figures have been either jailed or forced to leave the country.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the main opposition candidate in the election, who says she actually won the poll, condemned the latest raids.

“Our independent journalists suffer violence, torture in prison because they do their work,” she wrote Friday on Twitter.

Western nations have imposed a wide range of sanctions on Lukashenko and his regime over the crackdown, but they appear to have had limited effect as he retains support from key ally and financial backer Russia.

Source: Voice Of America