Belarus. Activists denounce increasing repression against civil society

Civil society in Belarus is facing intensified arrests and repression by the regime of Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in power for nearly 27 years. Since the August 2020 presidential election – a vote deemed fraudulent by the opposition and several countries – The country’s leader has responded with violence to the protests, in which thousands of protesters have been detained and beaten by police.

“Anyone can be detained in our country,” said Valentin Stefanovich of the Viasna group, a human rights organization that provides financial and legal support to political prisoners. “Part of our organization is out of the country, so they will never be able to completely stop our activities. But for me personally, it could happen at any time, and I may not be able to walk away,” Stefanovich said in statements to the newspaper last month. The Watcher.

Over the past week, Belarusian police have raided the offices and homes of at least a dozen human rights groups, media organizations, NGOs, and support and charities groups. Several members of the Viasna group, including Valentin Stefanovich, were arrested.

“These raids and arbitrary arrests are just another example of the crackdown on human rights defenders, civil society organizations and independent media that has continued since the hotly contested presidential elections in August 2020, when thousands of Belarusians took to the streets in peaceful protests, in the overwhelming majority,” the Viasna group wrote in a statement.

“Rogues and Foreign Agents”


But the repression now extends to groups that focus exclusively on charitable work, crowdfunding and organizing medical care for vulnerable communities.


Last week, Belarusian police searched the offices and homes of members of the non-governmental organization Imena, an online crowdfunding platform to solve social problems in Belarus. The organization’s bank accounts have been frozen and operations have since ground to a halt.


The various projects of this organization include, for example help for children with cancer or terminal illnesses, shelters for children or women who are victims of domestic violence, help for the homeless or support in the fight against Covid-19.



“We help people in difficult situations, regardless of their political affiliation. We do not ask for their opinion or political affiliation. (…) Why are we in this situation? What should we say to the people we help? We do not know. We don’t want to let them down. (…) For many, we are the only source of funding,” emphasizes Katerina Sinyuk, founder of the organization, in an interview with guardian

“It’s the total purge of civil society,” said Marina Vorobei, founder of Freeunion.online, an online platform that supports civil society organizing. “NGOs have always been under pressure in Belarus, but these searches, this new wave of arrests and seizures have never happened in these sectors”alert.


On Thursday, Alexander Lukashenko declared the increasingly widespread repression, warn that civil society activists and non-governmental organizations are “bandits, foreign agents” who “harm the state”.



“A cleanup operation is underway. Do you think it’s easy? There are thousands of people working for these organizations, their brains twisted after being brainwashed with foreign money.”said the Belarusian president on Thursday.


Another of the sectors targeted by the Belarusian repression is that of: average† The target chosen by Alexander Lukashenko is the Association of Journalists of Belarus. The Ministry of Justice on Wednesday requested the Supreme Court of Justice to close this organization due to alleged bureaucratic failures.


The Association of Journalists says it cannot provide the documents requested by the Belarusian justice because the headquarters was closed during a police raid last week. In total, according to the organization, there are at least 31 Belarusian journalists awaiting trial or serving prison terms.

US ‘moral obligation’, EU guards borders


Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the main figure in the protest against Alexander Lukashenko since the August 2020 presidential election, has been touring the United States since the beginning of the week, after meeting US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and other government officials. Biden and Congressional officials.


In an interview with CNN earlier this week, the Belarusian opposition leader, who has been in exile for nearly a year, said asked the United States to take the lead in the fight against autocracies. “Belarus is at the forefront of this battle,” he says.



“The United States has a moral obligation to assist us. I ask the United States to support civil society to survive because it is very difficult to fight within the country. People have to get out of the country, our average will be destroyed. Support for civil society is crucial right now.” emphasizes.



From abroad, Tikhanovskaya led mobilization efforts against Alexander Lukashenko’s regime after she fled the country to neighboring Lithuania while being chased by Belarusian security forces.


This has been the case for many activists and opponents of the government, who have been forced to leave Belarusian territory to ensure their safety. In the case of Roman Protasevich, the young journalist detained in May after hijacking a commercial plane linking Athens and Vilnius to Minsk, even that wasn’t enough.


At the time, the diversion of the plane connecting two capitals of the European Union was the basis of the new wave of sanctions applied by Brussels. In response to these sanctions, Alexander Lukashenko assured that Belarus will not try to deter the population from fleeing to Lithuania.The.



With the increasing flow of migrants on the Belarusian-Lithuanian border, Vilnius is tightening control in several neighboring towns such as Druskininkai. Janis Laizans – Reuters





Vilnius even accuses the neighboring country of taking migrants from abroad to illegally send them across the border into Lithuania into the European Union. Most of the migrants who have recently entered the country came from Iraq and were taken to Belarus on direct flights from Baghdad and Istanbul, the Lithuanian government said. About 1,400 people have crossed this border in the past month, a number that is double the total for the rest of the year.


This week, Frontex executive director Fabrice Leggeri accused Minsk of “causing and fomenting a migration crisis” to blackmail the European Union with the arrival of people through Lithuania, but also from Poland. To respond to this emerging crisis, Frontex will strengthen border control with Belarus from July 29with the deployment of 60 border guards, helicopters and vehicles.

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