Belarus: At least 25 human rights defenders targeted in a brazen attack on freedom of expression

IMS calls for the immediate release of the journalists and human rights defenders detained in Minsk, Mogilev, Vitebsk, Homel, Mozyr, Brest and Rechyts, Belarus.

IMS (International Media Support) is outraged by a string of politically-motivated detentions and targeted police raids in Minsk, Mogilev, Vitebsk, Homel, Mozyr, Brest and Rechyts this morning, targeting at least 25 human rights defenders as part of a deliberate, sophisticated effort to muzzle the critical voice in Belarus. 

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this brazen attack of the unprecedented scale on freedom of expression in Belarus,” said Gulnara Akhundova, IMS Head of Global Response. “The prosecution of the key civil society actors in Belarus signals a dangerous escalation of the Belarusian authorities’ despicable clampdown on freedom of expression and demonstrates the extent of measures the authorities are prepared to employ to keep the power, whatever it takes.”

Belarus Association of Journalists (BAJ) press secretary, Barys Haretski, sent out a message this morning that the security forces had come for him. Later, they also came for the BAJ’s lawyer Aleh Aheyeu and the chairperson of the BAJ, Andrei Bastunets, who was taken to witness the search in the office. 

Additionally, searches of journalists and human rights activists in Homel and Mogilev have also been carried out. Searches have been conducted at the home of journalist Ales Burakou Jr. in Mogilev and at the home of the press secretary of the Belarusian Human Rights House, Barys Zvozkau. Riot police officers have also visited the home of freelance journalist Larisa Shchyrakova in Homel. Another journalist from Homel, Anatoly Gotovchits, is also wanted.

According to the Investigative Committee, the raids were linked to a criminal case opened under Art. 342 of the Criminal Code (organisation and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order or active participation in them). The authorities allege that the human rights defenders were involved in “funding protests”.

IMS calls for the release of all those detained and an immediate end to this crackdown. IMS continues to monitor the situation and this statement will further be updated as further information becomes available.