At least 64 people were detained across Belarus on charges of “involvement in extremist groups” and “financing extremist activities,” accusations that are routinely used to target dissenters.
Belarusian authorities on Tuesday arrested several dozen people in raids marking the latest crackdown on dissent, a local human rights centre said.
The Viasna Centre said that some political prisoners who had been released after serving their sentences were among those arrested.
It said that some of those detained had cooperated with a humanitarian project providing food for political prisoners and others who have found themselves in a desperate situation amid official reprisals. On Tuesday, the authorities branded the project, INeedHelpBY, as extremist, a designation that could trigger seven-year prison sentences for those who cooperate with it.
According to Viasna, the detainees included Maryna Adamovich, the wife of opposition activist Mikola Statkevich, who is serving a 14-year prison sentence. 76-year-old Barys Khamaida, a veteran human rights activist, was detained as well, the group said.
Belarusian authorities have cracked down on opponents of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko after the August 2020 election result triggered widespread protests. Lukashenko is now serving his sixth term in office. The balloting was viewed by the opposition and the West as fraudulent.
Hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated, more than 35,000 were arrested, thousands were beaten in police custody and hundreds of independent media outlets and nongovernmental organisations were shut down and outlawed.
More than 1,400 political prisoners remain behind bars, including the leaders of opposition parties and renowned human rights advocate and 2022 Nobel Peace Prize winner Ales Bialiatski.
Belarusian opposition leader-in-exile Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who was forced to leave the country after challenging Lukashenko in the 2020 vote, denounced Tuesday’s arrests, saying “the regime’s thugs have targeted former political prisoners and the families of those currently held.”
She added: ”It’s a sad reality that no one in our country can feel safe today.”