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Belarus: Sweeping crackdown on civil society organizations must be stopped

Reacting to an unprecedented wave of searches and detentions targeting more than a dozen civil society organizations in Belarus, Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, said:

“Over the past 12 months, human rights have been under relentless attack from the government of Alyaksandr Lukashenka. We have long been calling on the international community to respond to allegations of torture, police violence against peaceful protesters, and the pervasive repression which has crushed every possible group of Belarusian society. Today’s massive attack on vital civil society organizations shows that nowhere near enough has been done to end this crisis.

“The Belarusian KGB boasted last week that it was conducting a country-wide operation “to cleanse radicals”, and today we have seen what this looks like on the ground. All those detained today must be released immediately, and this campaign against civil society must end.

The Belarusian KGB boasted last week that it was conducting a country-wide operation “to cleanse radicals”, and today we have seen what this looks like on the ground

Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia

“We reiterate our message to the international community: civil society is being wiped out in the heart of Europe. It’s time to act – to protect freedom and justice!”

Background

Early in the morning of 14 July, law enforcement officers broke into and searched the offices of at least a dozen major Belarusian civil society and human rights organizations and opposition groups, as well the homes of civil society leaders. The list growing by hour includes: the human rights group Vyasna, Belarusian Association of Journalists, Belarusian Helsinki Committee, the human rights group Human Constanta, the independent academic research centre BEROC, the human rights group Gender Perspectives, World Union of Belarusians Batskaushchyna, Belarusian People’s Front opposition party, “For Freedom” pro-democracy movement and Imena publishing house.

According to Vyasna, at least 12 people have been detained, including one of the leaders of Vyasna Valyantsyn Stefanovich, and his colleagues Uladzimir Labkovich, Alena Liptsyonak, Andrey Palyuda, Aleg Matskevich, Igar Kazmerchak, Viktar Sazonau and Maryna Statkevich. The whereabouts of Vyasna founder and former prisoner of conscience Ales Byalyatski was unknown at the time of writing.

Belarusian law enforcement agencies have not provided reasons for the raids. According to Vyasna, searches were conducted by officers from the Department of Financial Investigations of the State Control Committee.

In March, the Belarusian Investigative Committee opened a criminal case into the activities of Vyasna under Article 342 of the Criminal Code (“organization and active participation in group actions that grossly violate public order”).