KYIV -Belarusian security police searched offices and homes of lawyers and human rights activists on Wednesday, detaining at least 10 people in a new crackdown on opponents of President Alexander Lukashenko, several rights groups and media said.
Authorities have moved to shut down non-state media outlets and human right groups after mass protests last August against a presidential election the opposition said was rigged.
Police searched offices of at least 14 rights groups, media, NGOs and charity groups, including the human rights organisation, Viasna-96, and the country’s oldest political party, Belarusian People Front, the groups said.
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, a protest leader who fled Belarus amid a post-election crackdown, said Lukashenko’s regime was taking revenge on human rights activists and media.
“The (regime) accomplices have already threatened civil society in response to sanctions – they hope they can feel his power again if everyone in the country is silent,” she wrote on Telegram messenger.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Britain condemned what he described as an “escalation in repression” in Belarus by the authorities.
“We call for those detained to be released immediately, along with the hundreds of other people detained on political grounds”, Raab said in a statement.
Viasna-96 said its leader, Ales Byalyatski, was detained. Tsikhanouskaya said at least 10 people were also detained.
Belarus security officials were unavailable for comment.
The International Federation for Human Rights said in a statement that arrests “form part of a new wave of attacks against Viasna and other Belarus human rights organisations.”
The independent Imena media and charity group, which does not consider itself an opposition outlet, said officers had searched its offices, while Nasha Niva newspaper said police had searched the office of Belarusian Helsinki Committee rights group.
Viasna-96, Nasha Niva and Imena gave no reason for the searches.
Viasna-96 is the largest rights body in the former Soviet country and is the main source of information on political detentions and arrests. As of Tuesday evening, 555 people had been recognised as political prisoners in Belarus, it said.
Authorities in Belarus said last week they had blocked Nasha Niva’s website. They later said they had detained the editor and three journalists.