Belarus raids regional press in escalating crackdown
Belarus raided the offices of several regional media organisations and homes of independent journalists on Friday, in the second straight day of the country’s latest crackdown on the press.
Authorities in the ex-Soviet country — ruled for almost three decades by strongman President Alexander Lukashenko — are in the throes of a months-long clampdown on dissent.
The latest raids came a day after security officials blocked the country’s oldest news organisation Nasha Niva and raided the offices of at least three regional newspapers.
Most of the raids on Friday took place in the Western city of Brest on the Polish border.
The head of the KGB’s investigative department Konstantin Bychek told state television that a “large-scale operation” is being carried out to rid Belarus of “radicals”.
The Belarusian Association of Journalists reported that 32 media representatives have been detained since Thursday.
Nasha Niva’s editor-in-chief Yegor Martinovich was beaten and suffered head injuries while being detained in a raid, the online publication reported Friday.
Its website said on social media that the raids on the outlet were carried out as part of a probe into actions that grossly violated public order.
Exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya condemned the latest raids.
“Our independent journalists suffer violence, torture in prison because they do their work,” she wrote on Twitter Friday.
Journalists who covered anti-Lukashenko protests that erupted last year have come under mounting pressure in recent months, with several receiving long jail terms.
Popular news website Tut.by was blocked in May and several of its employees arrested on tax evasion charges.
Western nations have slapped a slew of sanctions on Lukashenko and his regime over the crackdown, but they appear to have had limited effect as he maintains backing from key ally and creditor Russia.
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