Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka on July 22 pledged to keep up his accelerated “sweep” against activists, media, and other elements of civil society as the country approaches the one-year mark since a disputed presidential election that sparked unprecedented protests.
Lukashenka, whose August 2020 reelection claim is not recognized by the opposition or by Western leaders, called such activists “thugs and foreign agents.”
He said a “sweep operation is under way” and criticized officials within his administration for allowing NGOs that are “harmful to the state” to function.
“Do you think it’s easy?” Lukashenka, who has kept a tight lid on dissent in post-Soviet Belarus since taking power in 1994, said. “Thousands of our people are already working there, our people, and mostly with their brains distorted and brainwashed with foreign money.”
Belarusian authorities have arrested tens of thousands of people, forcibly expelled or jailed opposition leaders, and refused accreditation or kicked out journalists since the crackdown on massive street protests began after Lukashenka tried to carve out a sixth term for himself nearly a year ago.
KGB Deputy Chief of Staff Kanstantsin Bychak said on July 16 that Belarus was undergoing a “cleansing of radicals.”
Authorities have relentlessly pursued NGOs and human rights groups, including raids this month against a top human rights watchdog, Vyasna, and the Belarusian Helsinki Committee.
Vyasna reported that authorities had detained 11 more activists on July 22.
Police and other law enforcement have searched more than 200 offices and apartments of journalists and activists so far this month, Vyasna said.
Earlier this week, authorities froze the bank accounts of the Belarusian PEN Center, an association of writers led by Svetlana Alexievich, a Nobel Prize laureate for literature and member of the Coordination Council of the Belarusian opposition.
Crisis In Belarus
Read our coverage as Belarusians continue to demand the resignation of Alyaksandr Lukashenka amid a brutal crackdown on protesters. The West refuses to recognize him as the country’s legitimate leader after an August 2020 election considered fraudulent.
Media rights groups have called on the international community to defend the country’s leading journalists’ association, the Belarusian Association of Journalists, as authorities seek to shutter it.
The United States and the European Union have imposed multiple rounds of sanctions to pressure Lukashenka to ease the crackdown, talk with the opposition, and ensure a fresh, independent election.
Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya is in Washington seeking greater U.S. support for her country’s pro-democracy movement, including asking the United States “to be the guarantor of our independence.”
Tsikhanouskaya met at the White House with U.S. national-security adviser Jake Sullivan on July 20 after meeting a day earlier with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland.
“When you look me in the eye, you see the eyes of every political prisoner, every activist, every Belarusian who wants to live in a free country,” Tsikhanouskaya told members of the U.S. Congress.