Authorities have frozen the bank accounts of the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAZh) and detained more people amid a severe crackdown on nongovernmental organizations.
The BAZh said on Telegram on July 20 that its bank accounts and all bank operations had been frozen in the aftermath of police searches of their offices last week.
Media reports said police also detained well-known historians Andrus and Tatsyana Mastyka, who in the past used to lead the civic group Historyka. The couple was detained after police searched their home in Minsk on July 19.
Another opposition figure, Yuras Hubarevich, said on July 20 that his former wife, Stasya Hubarevich, was detained on that day after police searched her apartment, where he is officially registered. Hubarevich is the chairman of the For Freedom movement.
Belarusian authorities have moved to shut down critical and nonstate media outlets and human right bodies in the wake of mass protests after a disputed presidential election last August. The opposition and the West say Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya won the vote and accuse authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka of falsifying the landslide result to give him a sixth consecutive term in power.
A day earlier, the Belarusian PEN-club and the charitable organization Imena (Names) said they were informed on July 19 that their bank accounts had been frozen without explanation.
“In all over the past few days, 66 searches have been performed in homes and offices of media representatives. A large series of searches was also conducted at the homes and offices of many NGOs and human rights groups. The Belarusian Association of Journalists thanks all the people who support the organization and all truthful journalists during this complex time. Let us stay together!” the BAZh statement said.
Authorities have not given reasons for any of the searches, nor have they explained why they detained the Mastykas or Hubarevich. In May, the Justice Ministry officially warned Hubarevich’s movement for allegedly failing to comply with a requirement to register the group’s legal address.
Belarus has been mired in turmoil since the disputed presidential election.
Lukashenka has since put down street protests and dissent over the vote with sometimes lethal force, jailing thousands of people and forcing most opposition leaders who haven’t been imprisoned to leave the country.
The West, which has refused to recognize the official results of the vote and does not consider Lukashenka to be the country’s legitimate leader, has imposed several rounds of sanctions against the 66-year-old, some of his family members, other senior officials, and on key economic sectors.
The EU recently imposed further far-reaching penalties aimed at weakening the regime after the forced landing of a European passenger plane in Minsk and the arrest of an opposition blogger who was on board.
In April, Belarusian Foreign Minister Uladzimer Makey publicly warned that further Western sanctions against Lukashenka’s government will be met by a crackdown on the country’s civil society.
“Any further toughening of the sanctions will lead to the situation where civil society [in Belarus] of which they [in the West] care will stop functioning. And that will be, I believe, absolutely grounded in the current situation,” Makey said at the time.