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Ales Byalyatski is the chairman of Vyasna. (file photo)

Belarus has declared a social media account of one of its oldest rights organizations “extremist” as the government of strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka continues its crackdown on dissent.

Crisis In Belarus

Read our ongoing coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka continues his brutal crackdown on NGOs, activists, and independent media following the August 2020 presidential election, widely seen as fraudulent.

A Belarusian court in Homel, a town 300 kilometers southeast of the capital, Minsk, ruled on December 30 that material published by Vyasna on its Telegram channel is extremist.

Vyasna, which was founded in 1996, documented Lukashenka’s brutal crackdown on the opposition following the disputed August 2020 presidential election, publishing data on the thousands of detentions as well as cases of torture.

Vyasna did not escape the postelection repression, with seven members of the organization currently behind bars.

The December 30 ruling opens the door to prosecuting subscribers of the channel as well.

Over the past year, Lukashenka’s government has declared about 300 Internet sites and online channels -- the majority run by the opposition -- as “extremist” as he seeks to quash any challenge to his 27-year rule.

Tens of thousands of Belarusian citizens took to the streets last year to demand Lukashenka step down following what the election, which they claim was rigged.

Belarus earlier this month added RFE/RL's Belarus Service, known locally as Radio Svaboda, to its registry of extremist organizations.

Pussy Riot member Veronika Nikulshina (file photo)

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Veronika Nikulshina, two members of the Pussy Riot protest group, have been added to Russia's controversial "foreign agents" list, which is used by the government to label what it says are foreign-funded organizations that are engaged in political activity, as well as people linked to them.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova

The Justice Ministry said in a statement on December 30 that two journalists connected to RFE/RL -- Yelena Vladykina and Ivan Belyaev -- were also placed on the "foreign agents" list in an update that added a total of eight people. With the update, the list now comprises 111 entities and individuals.

"This decision was made on the basis of documents received from authorized government bodies. In particular, according to the information received, these persons systematically distribute materials to an indefinite circle of persons, while receiving foreign funding," the ministry said in the statement.

Vladykina is a journalist with North.Realities, of RFE/RL's Russian Service, while Belyaev is a social media editor for RFE/RL's Russian Service.

RFE/RL President Jamie Fly said the Kremlin's "assault on the truth" would not succeed.

"This targeting of more @RFERL journalists from @SvobodaRadio and @severrealii will not deter us from our mission of providing objective information to Russian audiences," Fly said on Twitter.

He also issued a statement saying the addition of two more RFE/RL journalists to the foreign agents lists brings to 18 the number of Russian citizens working for RFE/RL "who have been falsely labeled in this way."

Yaroslavl filmmaker Andrei Alekseev; Marat Gelman, a former deputy director of Channel One and former member of the Public Chamber of Russia; Taisiya Bekbulatova, editor in chief of the magazine Kholod; and Viktor Shenderovich, a columnist for The New Times, were also added to the list.

The Pussy Riot performance-art collective came to prominence after some of its member were convicted of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred" for a stunt in which they burst into Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral and sang a "punk prayer" against Vladimir Putin, who was prime minister and campaigning for his return to the presidency at the time.

In another protest, Pussy Riot members -- including Nikulshina -- interrupted the 2018 World Cup final in Moscow between France and Croatia by running onto the field wearing fake police uniforms.

The "foreign agents" laws require those designated to register with the authorities and label their content with an intrusive disclaimer, with criminal fines for not doing so.

The designation also restricts other media from citing a "foreign agent" organization without including a disclaimer.

The "foreign agents" label has led to several NGOs, media organizations, and other groups to shut down as they lose revenues from advertisers.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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