Belarusian authorities say scores of people have been arrested for "insulting a government official" and other charges in connection with a police shoot-out at a Minsk apartment that killed an intelligence officer and an IT worker.
The Investigative Committee said 136 people had been taken in custody as of October 6, and signaled more arrests were likely.
The arrests are the latest development surrounding the murky shooting on September 28, which resulted in the death of Andrey Zeltsar, a man working for a major U.S.-based IT company called EPAM.
The authorities claimed that "an especially dangerous criminal" had opened fire on security officers after they showed up at his apartment looking for "individuals involved in terrorist activities." In addition to Zeltsar, Dzmitry Fedasyuk, an officer with the country's main security agency, the KGB, was also killed.
Earlier this week, Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka vowed to punish people criticizing the raid, and specifically those criticizing Fedasyuk.
Among those commenting publicly was Valer Tsapkala, an exiled, would-be presidential candidate who said Zeltsar was an example for all Belarusians of how to resist Lukashenka's government. Lukashenka slammed people who posted comments on social media praising Zeltsar and criticizing Fedasyuk, saying, "We have all their accounts and we can see who is who." In addition to charges of insulting a government official, those arrested face charges of "inciting social hatred," the committee said.
Crisis In Belarus
Read our ongoing coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka ramps up pressure on NGOs and independent media as part of a brutal crackdown against protesters and the opposition following an August 2020 election widely considered fraudulent.
A number of human rights organizations spoke about the raid, and about the condition in which detainees were being held.
Belarus has been roiled by unprecedented anti-government protests that erupted after a presidential election in August 2020 in which Lukashenka claimed reelection. Opposition groups called the vote fraudulent, and many Western government have refused to recognize Lukashenka as the winner. In response to months of street protests, the government has arrested thousands and pushed most of the top opposition figures out of the country. Earlier this week, the Belarus's Supreme Court ordered the liquidation of the country's oldest human rights organization, the Belarusian Helsinki Committee.