Security forces have raided the offices and homes of several independent journalists across Belarus, including the premises of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Minsk.
Witnessed said the officers broke through the door at RFE/RL's Minsk bureau on July 16 as part of a sweep targeting the media.
The searches came two days after authorities raided the offices of a dozen human rights organizations and after the United Nations human rights chief said recent moves by Belarusian authorities were "completely unacceptable." Security officers searched the homes of RFE/RL correspondents Aleh Hruzdzilovich and Valyantsin Zhdanko. Hruzdzilovich and former RFE/RL correspondent Ina Studzinskaya, whose accreditation was annulled in October, were detained. Hruzdzilovich's wife told RFE/RL that her husband was taken away in handcuffs. "His and my phones, all computers, and laptops were taken way. There were nine people. They also took all the money, even Belarusian rubles from my pocket. Also $300 that remained for me to live on," she added. Earlier this week, Belarusian police carried out sweeping raids against human rights groups and the media, including the Vyasna human rights center and the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, in a sign that authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka was further ramping up his crackdown on dissent.
At least a dozen people were detained in the July 14 raids targeting at least 19 nongovernmental organizations in Minsk and other cities.
Belarusian authorities have moved to shut down critical and nonstate media outlets and human right bodies in the wake of mass protests last August after a presidential election that the opposition said was rigged. The opposition and the West say Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who was forced into exile, won the vote. Belarus has been mired in turmoil since the disputed presidential election that gave Lukashenka his sixth consecutive term in power. He 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. Recently, the EU 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.