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Belarus shuts more civil society groups in wide crackdown

Belarus shuts more civil society groups in wide crackdown

KYIV, Ukraine — Belarusian authorities on Friday announced the closure of 15 nongovernmental organizations, part of a sweeping crackdown on independent media and civil society activists that includes shutting dozens of NGOs.The groups ordered to close include the Human Constanta human rights center, the Names charity organization, BelSetka Anti-AIDS group and an organization assisting disabled people.The groups’ closure comes a day after authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko vowed to continue what he called a “mopping-up operation” against civil society activists whom he denounced as “bandits and foreign agents.”Altogether, more than 50 NGOs are facing closure. They include the Belarusian Association of Journalists, or BAJ, the biggest and the most respected media organization in the country, and the Belarusian PEN Center, an association of writers led by Svetlana Alexievich, the winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in literature.Human Constanta said in a statement that the authorities didn’t explain why they decided to close the group, adding that the action reflects a “growing pressure on civil society in Belarus.”Also targeted is the Press-Club, an organization that offered education programs for journalists. Its head, Yulia Slutskaya, and three other workers have remained in custody since their arrest in December.Amnesty International denounced the dissolution of Belarusian NGOs and called for a “strong international response to ensure that the Belarusian authorities immediately end their vicious crackdown on civil society.”“Today is another dark day that will go down in the history of Belarus,” Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, said in a statement. “Undeterred, the Belarusian authorities are pushing in their unprecedented and increasingly brutal attack on civic space, all forms of opposition or peaceful dissent.”U.S. Ambassador Julie Fisher also strongly condemned the dissolution of NGOs, tweeting that by targeting “impactful NGOs focused on the disabled, arts, media, human rights and more” the Belarusian authorities seek to blame others “rather than acknowledge their own role in creating the crisis in Belarus.”Belarusian authorities have ramped up action against NGOs and independent media, with more than 200 raids of offices and apartments of activists and journalists so far this month, according to the Viasna human rights center.The independent Regionalnaya Gazeta (Regional Newspaper) said Friday it was forced to halt publication following the raid of its office in Maladzyechna, 80 kilometers (50 miles) northeast of the Belarusian capital, Minsk, and the arrest of several of its journalists. Another journalist, photographer Ksenia Halubovich, was arrested Friday while she was taking pictures at a children’s hospice in Minsk.Thirty-two Belarusian journalists in total are in custody, either awaiting trial or serving their sentences.“The continued harassment of media and journalists in retaliation for their work shows yet again the deliberate intention to stomp out open debate and any views on issues of concern to citizens that are critical of the authorities,” said Teresa Ribeiro, the media freedom representative of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.Lukashenko, who faced months of protests triggered by his election to a sixth term in an August 2020 vote that the opposition and the West saw as rigged, responded to demonstrations with a massive crackdown that saw more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten by police.The relentless repressions have stifled protests, but in a rare show of defiance, a dozen protesters walked late Thursday across downtown Minsk carrying the opposition red-and-white flag. The Viasna human rights center said it marked the first public protest in a month.Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Lukashenko’s main election challenger, who was forced to leave Belarus under official pressure after the election, visited the United States this week for meetings with officials of President Joe Biden’s administration and members of Congress to rally support for the Belarusian opposition.U.S. Under Secretary of State Uzra Zeya, who was among officials who met with Tsikhanouskaya, reaffirmed Washington’s support for the Belarusians amid the crackdown and called for the “unconditional release of all political prisoners, an end to the violence and new free and fair elections.”

Belarus arrests 3 journalists in continuing media crackdown

Belarus arrests 3 journalists in continuing media crackdown

Authorities in Belarus have raided the offices of an independent newspaper and detained three of its journalists as part of a relentless crackdown on media outlets and civil society activistsBy YURAS KARMANAU Associated PressJuly 19, 2021, 6:16 PM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleKYIV, Ukraine — Authorities in Belarus raided offices of an independent newspaper and detained three of its journalists Monday as part of a relentless crackdown on media outlets and civil society activists.Alyaksandr Mantsevich, the editor of the Regionalnaya Gazeta (Regional Newspaper), and journalists Zoya Khrutskaya and Nasta Utkina, were detained, said the Belarusian Association of Journalists, or BAJ.They were taken into custody after the search of the newspaper’s office in Maladzyechna, 80 kilometers (50 miles) northeast of the Belarusian capital, Minsk.BAJ said that a total of 64 searches have been conducted over the last 10 days. Thirty-two journalists in total are in custody, either awaiting trial or serving their sentences.“The authorities have turned life into hell for independent journalists in Belarus with a conveyor belt of searches and arrests,” BAJ head Andrei Bastunets said. “There is an impression that the authorities have decided to leave the country without journalists.”On Monday, authorities also froze the bank accounts of the Belarusian PEN Center, an association of writers led by Svetlana Alexievich, the winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in literature. Alexievich, a member of the opposition Coordination Council, left Belarus last year after being summoned for questioning by the state investigative agency.On Monday, a court in Minsk also handed out prison sentences ranging from five to nine years to 11 people who were accused of coordinating “radical actions” and planning arson on a messaging app.One of them, 26-year-old Yevgeny Propolsky, who was sentenced to eight years in prison, said during the trial that investigators beat and tortured him to force confessions.“They threatened me, beat and tortured me with electric current,” Propolsky said. “They forced me to write a confessional testimony.”The Viasna human rights center recognized the 11 people convicted Monday as political prisoners, saying there are a total of 562 in the country now. Viasna said the searches Monday targeted civil society activists and human rights defenders in the cities of Brest and Pinsk in western Belarus.Belarus was rocked by months of protests after Lukashenko’s August 2020 election to a sixth term in a vote that the opposition and the West saw as rigged.Belarusian authorities responded to opposition demonstrations with a massive crackdown, including police beating thousands of demonstrators and arresting more than 35,000 people. Leading opposition figures have been jailed or forced to leave the country, while independent media outlets have had their offices searched and their journalists arrested.The West has responded to the crackdown by imposing sanctions on Belarus. The European Union ramped up the restrictions after Belarus in May diverted a passenger jet to Minsk to arrest a dissident journalist. The government in neighboring Lithuania has accused Belarusian authorities of organizing a flow of migrants from the Middle East and Africa in retaliation.Lukashenko, who has ordered to halt cooperation with the EU on stemming illegal migration, said Monday that Belarus could contain the flow of migrants if the bloc rolls back the sanctions.“They have introduced sanctions to strangle us,” Lukashenko said. “They take such action against the Belarusian people and they want us to protect them — listen, it’s really weird. If you want us to help you, don’t put a noose around our neck.”Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Lukashenko’s main challenger in the August 2020 election, was forced to leave Belarus under official pressure immediately after the vote. She was in Washington on Monday for meetings with officials and U.S. House members to rally support for the Belarusian opposition.“They have the power, they have weapons and they have been trying to silence people,” Tsikhanouskaya said. “But we have been standing up to them for a year.”

Belarus expands crackdown on independent media

Belarus expands crackdown on independent media

KYIV, Ukraine — Authorities in Belarus raided the homes and offices of independent media outlets and civil society activists Friday, widening a crackdown on opposition in the ex-Soviet nation.The Belarusian Association of Journalists and the Viasna human rights center said authorities searched the apartments and offices of at least 31 journalists and activists in the capital of Minsk and seven other cities.“The authorities are using an entire arsenal of repressions against journalists — intimidation, beatings, searches and arrests,” Andrei Bastunets, the head of the journalists’ association, said..The country’s main security agency, which still goes under its Soviet-era name KGB, said those targeted were suspected of involvement in “extremist activities.”Among those targeted Friday were 22 journalists who worked for the Belsat TV channel, which is funded by Poland, and for U.S.-funded broadcaster RFE/RL. Authorities broke down the door of RFE/RL’s office in Minsk.RFE/RL journalist Aleh Hruzdzilovich was detained after the search of his family’s home, his wife, Maryana, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Minsk.“Nine people broke into our apartment, seized all the equipment and took Aleh away in handcuffs,” she said.Viasna said authorities also raided the homes of Alena Anisim, head of the Union of Belarusian Language, and activists with the nongovernmental organization Legal Initiative.Belarus’ Investigative Committee, the top state investigative agency, said the raids were part of a probe into alleged tax evasion and violations of financial regulations by NGOs and media outlets.The new raids continue a sweeping clampdown on independent media and non-government organizations in the country.Earlier this week, law enforcement officers raided the homes of 10 Viasna workers, as well as the human rights center’s offices in Minsk and other cities. They also searched a number of other Belarusian NGOs and journalists.The action came after President Alexander Lukashenko, the longtime authoritarian leader of Belarus, promised to “deal with” organizations that he accuses of fomenting unrest.Belarus was rocked by months of protests after Lukashenko’s August 2020 election to a sixth term in a vote that the opposition and the West saw as rigged.Belarusian authorities responded to opposition demonstrations with a massive crackdown, including police beating thousands of demonstrators and arresting more than 35,000 people. Leading opposition figures have been jailed or forced to leave the country, while independent media outlets have had their offices searched and their journalists arrested.Overall, 32 Belarusian journalists are currently in custody, either serving their sentences or awaiting trial, according to the Belarusian Association of Journalists.Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Lukashenko’s main challenger in the August 2020 election, who was forced to leave Belarus under official pressure immediately after the vote, tweeted Friday that “the regime destroys every media that dares to tell the truth about the situation in Belarus.”Also on Friday, 11 university students and a teacher were sentenced to 2 and 2 1/2-year prison terms on accusations of staging and coordinating protests last fall.U.S. Ambassador to Belarus, Julie Fisher, condemned the verdict. “How fragile is a regime that can’t abide free expression and civic engagement by 11 university students? These young people present a profile in courage,” she said on Twitter.Fisher also said that Friday’s raids targeting journalists “demonstrate cowardice and the inability to cope with truth-telling as opposed to the lionization and fantasies woven daily on state TV.”RFE/RL strongly condemned Friday’s raiding of its bureau and the detention of Hruzdzilovich and former RFE/RL correspondent Ina Studzinskaya and demanded their immediate release.“These raids and arrests testify to the despotic desperation of the Lukashenko regime to cling to power at all costs,” RFE/RL President Jamie Fly said in a statement. “Lukashenko’s criminalization of independent journalism is a cynical attempt to exert absolute control over what the Belarusian people see and hear. These intimidation tactics will not silence our journalism.”The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, denounced the crackdown in a statement issued Thursday.“This new wave of repression is yet another proof that the Lukashenko regime is waging a systematic and well-orchestrated campaign with the ultimate aim to silence all remaining dissident voices and suppress civic space in Belarus,” Borrell said. “The severe violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms come at a price. The EU is ready to consider further restrictive measures in line with its gradual approach.”

Belarus targets rights activists, journalists with raids

Belarus targets rights activists, journalists with raids

KYIV, Ukraine — Authorities in Belarus raided the offices and homes of dozens of human rights activists and journalists Wednesday in a sweeping crackdown a day after the country’s authoritarian president promised to “deal with” non-governmental organizations that he accuses of fomenting unrest.Law enforcement officers raided the homes of 10 workers of the Viasna human rights center, as well as its offices in Minsk and other cities. They also searched a number of other Belarusian NGOs and journalists in the ex-Soviet state.More than 40 raids took place across the country. The chairperson of the Belarusian Association of Journalists said officers broke the doors into the organization’s office in the capital and didn’t present a search warrant.“The most massive conveyor belt of repressions in the country’s modern history has been activated in Belarus,” Andrei Bastunets, the head of the journalists’ association, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview after the Wednesday morning raid.The renowned Viasna center has monitored human rights in Belarus for a quarter-century. Authorities revoked its credentials in 2003 and its leader, Ales Bialiatski, was arrested in 2012 and spent two years behind bars.Bialiatski was detained on unspecified charges Wednesday, and the raids paralyzed the work of several regional branches of Viasna. Viasna’s workers whose homes were searched were also taken to the Belarus’ Investigative Committee for questioning.The human rights center said in a statement that it would not cease its activities under pressure. It condemned “the new wave of repression against members of our organization and civil society in Belarus.”“The real motive for the persecution is our fight, together with Belarus’ entire human rights community, for the advancement of human rights and democratic values, against torture and cruel, inhumane, humiliating treatment (of people),” the statement said.Other organizations targeted in the raids included the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, the World Association of Belarusians, the For Freedom movement and the Gender Perspectives association. The search of the offices of the Belarusian Association of Journalists was the second in three months.“The authorities use the most disgusting methods of cracking down on dissent in the country — fear, arrests and raids,” Bastunest said.According to Viasna, journalists and rights activists in the cities of Orsh, Grodno, Brest and others also were targeted in raids.On Tuesday, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko promised to bring to justice 1,500 NGOs and journalists he alleged were “funded from abroad.” He claimed during a visit to Russia that Western-funded organizations were fomenting unrest and denounced their alleged actions.“We have started to work very actively to deal with all those NGOs,… which were effectively promoting terror instead of democracy,” Lukashenko said.U.S. Ambassador Julie Fisher denounced the raids on Twitter as part of a “relentless campaign to criminalize independent voices, human rights defenders and civil society.”Belarus was rocked by months of protests after Lukashenko’s August 2020 election to a sixth term in a disputed vote that was widely seen as rigged.Belarusian authorities responded to the protests with a massive crackdown, including police beating thousands of demonstrators and arresting more than 35,000 people. Leading opposition figures have been jailed or forced to leave the country, while independent media outlets have had their offices searched and their journalists arrested.Last week, authorities conducted more than 30 raids targeting journalists and media organizations in the capital Minsk and other regions. Seven journalists have been detained, including those working for the Nasha Niva newspaper, which authorities have banned. A total of 39 journalists are currently behind bars, either awaiting court appearances or convicted to prison terms.Belarus’ State Security Committee — the KGB — announced earlier this month it was conducting a large-scale operation to “purge radically minded individuals.”A prominent lawyer, Anton Gashinsky, also was stripped of his law license Wednesday. Gashinsky represented Sophia Sapega, the Russian girlfriend of dissident journalist Raman Pratasevich. The couple were arrested after Belarusian authorities diverted a flight to Lithuania they were on to Minsk.Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Lukashenko’s main challenger in the August 2020 election, who was forced to leave Belarus and is in exile in Lithuania, tweeted Wednesday that Lukashenko “wants to desolate the whole country.”“The regime continues its massive attack on human rights defenders, activists, journalists,” Tsikhanouskaya wrote.Amnesty International urged the international community to act, saying that “civil society is being wiped out in the heart of Europe.””Today’s massive attack on vital civil society organizations shows that nowhere near enough has been done to end this crisis,” Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, said in a statement.

Belarus scales up crackdown on independent media

Belarus scales up crackdown on independent media

A media watchdog says Belarusian authorities have raided the offices of several media outlets and the homes of scores of journalists under a multi-pronged crackdown on dissent and free speech in the ex-Soviet nationBy YURAS KARMANAU Associated PressJuly 9, 2021, 5:44 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleVILNIUS, Lithuania — Belarusian authorities have raided the offices of several media outlets and the homes of scores of journalists under a multi-pronged crackdown on dissent and free speech in the ex-Soviet nation, a media watchdog said Friday.The Belarusian Association of Journalists, or BAJ, said the country’s law enforcement agencies have conducted nearly 30 searches at media outlets and journalists’ apartments and detained at least seven journalists in the past two days.“A new wave of repression that is unprecedented in scope and cruelty has targeted the independent media,” said BAJ leader Andrei Bastunets. “The authorities arbitrarily designate any journalist as an extremist.”On Thursday, Belarusian authorities blocked the website of Nasha Niva, a leading independent online newspaper, raided its offices and detained its chief editor Yahor Martsinovich and several other staffers for questioning.Agents of the Belarusian state security agency, which still goes under its Soviet-era name, KGB, also conducted searches at several regional media outlets and detained several journalists.The crackdown continued Friday, with KGB officers raiding the apartments of Nasta Zanko, a journalist of the independent Onliner.by news outlet in Minsk and journalists Andrey Kukharchyk and Maksim Khlyabets in Brest, on the border with Poland.They also searched the apartment of journalist Tanya Smotkina in the town of Glubokoye in Belarus’ north, and the offices of Informprogulka and Media-Polesye media outlets in Luninets and a local newspaper in Hantsevichi in the country’s west.Overall, 32 Belarusian journalists are currently in custody, either serving their sentences or awaiting trial, the Belarusian Association of Journalists said.Konstantin Bychek, a deputy head of the KGB’s investigative department, said the raids and arrests were part of a broad sweep against “radical-minded individuals.”Bychek alleged that those targeted are suspected of involvement in helping to stage “mass disturbances and even acts of terrorism.”The independent media and journalists targeted in the crackdown have covered months of protests against Belarus’ authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, which were triggered by his reelection to a sixth term in an August 2020 vote that was widely seen as rigged.The authorities responded to demonstrations with a massive crackdown that saw more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten by police. Leading opposition figures have been either jailed or forced to leave the country.The European Union and the United States have responded to the crackdown by slapping Belarus with sanctions. They also imposed new, tougher restrictions after Belarus diverted a passenger jet on May 23 to arrest an opposition journalist.Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the main opposition candidate in the election who fled to neighboring Lithuania after the vote, urged the EU to respond to the crackdown on independent media by ramping up pressure on Lukashenko’s government.“The attack on the Belarusian media indicates that the regime is scaling up repressions and the democratic nations’ response to that must be maximally harsh,” Tsikhanouskaya told The Associated Press. “We expect the EU to expand its sanctions list to include the collaborators of the regime who take part in today’s repressions.”

Belarus government blocks top media outlet, detain reporters

Belarus government blocks top media outlet, detain reporters

The Belarusian authorities have blocked the website of a leading online media outlet and detained several of its journalists, the latest move in a sweeping crackdown on dissent and independent media in the ex-Soviet nationBy YURAS KARMANAU Associated PressJuly 8, 2021, 11:38 AM• 2 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleKYIV, Ukraine — The Belarusian authorities on Thursday blocked the website of a leading online media outlet and detained several of its journalists, the latest move in a sweeping crackdown on dissent and independent media in the ex-Soviet nation.Belarus’ Information Ministry said it has blocked Nasha Niva’s website after the Prosecutor General’s office had accused it of posting unspecified unlawful information.The Belarusian Association of Journalists, or BAJ, said that the authorities conducted searches at Nasha Niva’s offices, detained its chief editor Yahor Martsinovich and editor Andrey Skurko and searched their apartments. Another four Nasha Niva journalists couldn’t be reached, the BAJ said.Nasha Niva journalist Аrtsem Harbatsevich likened the crackdown to the authorities’ earlier action against another top independent news portal, Tut.by, which similarly saw its website blocked and journalists detained in May.“It’s a crackdown on the editorial office in the worst Soviet-era tradition,” Harbatsevich told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Minsk.Nasha Niva, which was founded in 1906, is the oldest and the most authoritative Belarusian media outlet. Its online audience exceeds 100,000.Both Nasha Niva and Tut.by extensively covered months of protests against Belarus’ authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, which were triggered by his reelection to a sixth term in an August 2020 vote that was widely seen as rigged.The authorities responded to demonstrations with a massive crackdown that saw more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten by police. Leading opposition figures have been either jailed or forced to leave the country.The European Union and the United States have responded to the crackdown by slapping Belarus with sanctions. They have imposed new, tougher restrictions after Belarus diverted a passenger jet on May 23 to arrest an opposition journalist.The website of Tut.by has been blocked since May and 12 of its journalists have remained in jail pending trial.Overall, 27 Belarusian journalists are currently in custody, either serving their sentences or awaiting trial, according to the Belarusian Association of Journalists.“The crackdown on independent media in Belarus is continuing,” said the association head, Andrei Bastunets. “The authorities have decided that they can deprive millions of citizens of information. The authorities see journalists and independent information as their main enemies.”

Belarus leader says alleged foreign-backed plots thwarted

Belarus leader says alleged foreign-backed plots thwarted

Belarus’ authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko says his government has thwarted a series of purported Western-backed plots, and ordered the border with Ukraine fully closed over alleged weapons smugglingBy YURAS KARMANAU Associated PressJuly 2, 2021, 6:33 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleKYIV, Ukraine — Belarus’ authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko claimed Friday that his government has thwarted a series of purported Western-backed plots, and ordered the border with Ukraine fully closed over alleged weapons smuggling.Lukashenko claimed that Western-backed saboteurs had allegedly plotted to blow up a Russian military communications facility in Vileyka, 100 kilometers (60 miles) northwest of the Belarusian capital of Minsk, but their plans were derailed by the Belarusian authorities. He said that he discussed the purported plot with Russian President Vladimir Putin.Lukashenko, who has faced months of domestic protests against his rule, also claimed that his foes were allegedly planning to commit acts of arson and purportedly to mutilate or kill a pro-government TV journalist. He claimed that weapons and other materials for the alleged acts of sabotage were smuggled in from Ukraine.Lukashenko, 66, charged that Germany, the United States, Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania were involved in the plot. He didn’t provide any substantiation for that claim, but said he’d give details later.Belarus has been shaken by protests fueled by Lukashenko’s reelection to a sixth term in an August 2020 election that was widely seen as rigged. Authorities responded to the demonstrations with a massive crackdown that saw more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten by police.Lukashenko, who has ruled the ex-Soviet nation of 9.5 million with an iron fist for 27 years, has repeatedly accused the West of fomenting the protests and harboring plots to oust him.Lukashenko’s statement followed a set of new bruising sanctions the EU slapped on Belarus over last month’s diversion of a passenger jet to arrest a dissident journalist. The sanctions announced last week target the country’s top export items, including potash — a common fertilizer ingredient, petroleum products and tobacco industry exports.Ukraine has joined the West in strongly criticizing Belarusian authorities over the May 23 incident when they diverted a Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania and ordered it to land in Minsk where journalist Raman Pratasevich and his Russian girlfriend were arrested. Ukrainian authorities have also joined some of the EU sanctions, cutting air links with Belarus after the flight’s diversion.Lukashenko on Friday charged that the border with Ukraine has become a conduit for weapons being smuggled into Belarus for use in the alleged sabotage plots.“An enormous amount of weapons flows to Belarus from Ukraine,” he said in a speech televised live. “That is why I have ordered the border guards to fully close the border with Ukraine.”Lukashenko charged that another alleged plot envisaged setting forestry equipment on fire in a show of strength.“The goal was to set fire to a column of lumber vehicles at night and post images on the Web to show: ‘We are alive and fighting to oust that regime,’” Lukashenko said, adding that a woman accused of involvement in the plot was arrested on June 8.Yet another alleged plot was to kidnap a pro-government TV journalist, Grigory Azarenok, drive him to a forest and cut his tongue with scissors, Lukashenko claimed. He said a suspect who allegedly tried to abduct the journalist was arrested Thursday.

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