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The diplomats held their ceremony in Kurapaty, a wooded area on the outskirts of Minsk that was used as an execution site by the Soviet secret police. 

MINSK -- Western diplomats in Minsk have commemorated more than 130 Belarusian intellectuals, including 22 writers and poets, who were executed by the Soviet secret police 84 years ago.

The October 29 ceremony comes amid an ongoing crackdown on the opposition, civil society, and independent media following last year’s disputed presidential election that gave authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka a sixth term.

Representatives of the diplomatic missions of the European Union, Britain, Switzerland, and the United States gathered in Kurapaty, a wooded area on the Belarusian capital's outskirts that was used as an execution site by the NKVD, the Soviet secret police in the 1930s and 1940s.

Some journalists of state media outlets tried to disrupt the ceremony, for instance by asking the diplomats to name at least one of the victims they were commemorating.

During the night of October 29-30 an event to commemorate the Belarusian victims of Soviet repressions will be held online. Activists have created a special website -- the Night of Poets -- for the occasion.

Similar commemoration events are being held in other parts of the former Soviet Union to mark an unofficial day of remembrance for the victims of Soviet leader Josef Stalin's Great Terror, which claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

Many of those executed overnight in Belarus on October 29, 1937, were from the local intelligentsia.

Lukashenka's government has cracked down hard on the pro-democracy movement after unprecedented anti-government protests erupted across Belarus following the August 2020 election.

Thousands of people have been arrested, dozens of news websites blocked, and independent media shuttered as part of the sweeping clampdown, which has pushed most of the top opposition figures out of the country.

The Vyasna human rights center considers 833 people to be political prisoners.

The opposition and the West say the presidential vote was rigged to keep Lukashenka in power, and the European Union, the United States, and other countries have refused to recognize him as the winner of the election.

The annual ceremony is normally held on Moscow's Lubyanka Square at the the site of the former headquarters of the Soviet KGB. (file photo)

MOSCOW – An annual commemoration for thousands of people executed during Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's Great Terror is being held in Russia online for a second year in a row due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Center has held a ceremony every year since 2006 at the Solovetsky Kamen (Solovki Stone) memorial on Moscow's Lubyanka Square, which is the site of the former headquarters of the Soviet KGB and the current headquarters of its successor, the Federal Security Service (FSB).

For 12 hours, relatives of those executed, rights activists, and other participants read aloud the names, ages, occupations, and execution dates of some of the estimated 1 million or more Soviet citizens executed by Stalin's regime in 1937-38.

But due to COVID-19 restrictions, this year's commemoration in Moscow and elsewhere is being held online, as in 2020.

Memorial asked participants to shoot video statements at symbolic sites that were added to its YouTube broadcast running from 10.00 a.m. to 10.00 p.m.

The ceremony is held ahead of the October 30 Day of Commemoration of the Victims of Political Repressions in Russia, the date chosen to honor gulag inmates in the Russian regions of Mordovia and Perm who started a mass hunger strike on that day in 1974, protesting political persecutions in the Soviet Union.

The exact number of Soviet citizens repressed by Stalin’s regime remains unknown. According to Memorial, at least 12 million men and women were persecuted during the Great Terror. The Gulag Museum puts the number at 20 million, and estimates that more than 1 million people were executed.

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