Belarus: New Wave of Attacks Against Civil SocietyJul 19, 2021
On July 14, Belarusian security forces raided the homes and offices of dozens of human rights activists, lawyers, and independent journalists. Several activists were reported detained, including Ales Bialiatski, head of Belarus’s prominent rights NGO Viasna and thirteen of his current and former colleagues. Six of them remain behind bars, including Bialiatski. They joined the four Viasna members who have been detained since 2020 and early 2021 and who are the laureates of last year’s Homo Homini Award.
Unprecedented in their scale, the raids constitute a new wave of repressions aimed to muzzle critical voices and undermine civil society.
The attacks came just a day after Aleksander Lukashenka, Belarus’s authoritarian ruler, vowed to “find and bring to justice” NGOs funded from abroad.
Belarus, where the number of political prisoners has reached over 550, has witnessed massive human rights violations since last year. Following a rigged presidential election in August 2020, hundreds of thousands of people took out to the streets and went on strike to contest the results.
To quash rising dissent, Belarusian authorities have launched a full-scale assault against the protesters, harassing, intimidating, arbitrarily detaining and even torturing those who dared to challenge Lukashenko’s rule.
On July 16, a group of students and a teacher were sentenced to 2,5 years in a penal colony for “violating public order” and organizing peaceful protests
Now the dictator’s crackdown has extended to human rights groups and independent media. Beyond targeting rights activists, the recent mass raids targeted apartments and offices of journalists around the country, including one of the best-known independent news portal in the country, Nasha Niva, those who cooperated with Poland-based Belsat TV and US Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and numerous regional newsrooms.
Last month, Ales Bialiatski (detained on Thursday), Yauhen Merkis (detained on Friday) and Viktoria Fedorova (fled Belarus, her apartment was searched on Friday) participated in our panel at One World in Brussels and shared with us their vision of the situation in their country:
People in Need calls on the Belarusian authorities to cease the ongoing attacks against civil society and independent media. All arbitrarily detained activists and journalists must be immediately and unconditionally released.
We also express our deepest sympathy and solidarity with our colleagues in the field of human rights and media who – despite all the dangers and risks – continue their mission and brave work in documenting human rights abuses and providing the public with reliable information.