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3rd Mar 2024

EU dismayed as Lukashenko 'terrorises' media

  • Families watch play in courtyard in Minsk put on by opposition arts group Belarus Free Theatre (Photo: belarusfreetheatre.com)

Belarus has attacked its last few independent journalists in raids that prompted an international outcry.

Police broke into the offices of the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) and the Belarusian Radio and Electronic Industry Workers' Union (REP) in Minsk on grounds of searching for illicit funding on Tuesday morning (16 February).

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They went into the private homes of several journalists in Brest, Homel, Mahilyou, Minsk, and Vitebsk, including well-known freelancers Larisa Shchyrakova and Anatoly Gotovchits.

They also raided two human rights NGOs, Viasna and Belarusian Human Rights House, which provide independent information, for instance on regime crimes and protest crowd sizes, to international press.

And they detained about 30 people, most of whom were later released.

"This is the largest crackdown ever on journalists and rights activists Europe has ever seen," Boris Goretsky, the BAJ's vice-president said.

"There have been more than 400 detentions of journalists over the last six months, and the authorities aren't going to stop at that," he added, following months of pro-democracy protests after rigged elections last August.

"The authorities are clearly sending a message that they will not stop the crackdown ... despite the West's pressure," Maryia Sadouskaya-Komlac, a Belarusian journalist who works with Free Press Unlimited, a Dutch-based NGO, said.

"Despite years of repression, the Belarusian independent media sector remained high quality, diverse, and professional - but its very existence is now under threat," she said.

The Brussels-based European Federation of Journalists and International Federation of Journalists as well as UK-based charity Amnesty International voiced solidarity.

"This is clearly a centrally organised and targeted attempt to decimate the country's independent media ... through terrifying home raids," Amnesty's Aisha Jung said.

The EU and the Council of Europe joined the outcry.

Tuesday's attacks were a "complete violation of ... fundamental freedoms, human rights and the rule of law," an EU foreign service spokesman said.

"Hundreds of politically motivated trials have taken place. Belarusians have been denied the most basic rights, including the right to fair trial, and the right to humane treatment in custody," he added.

"Hundreds of documented cases of torture have been collected to date," he said.

The EU has already blacklisted 84 people, including Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko and his eldest son, as well as seven entities, over the events.

It recently targeted a handful of oligarchs and companies that feed the regime money.

It has stopped short of economic sanctions, for instance on Belarusian petroleum or fertiliser exports, amid concern that too much pressure could push Belarus into a state union with Russia.

But it has said its blacklist remained under constant review, with potentially "hundreds" more names to add, as EU foreign ministers meet to discuss neighbourhood crises next Monday.

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