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Belarus Continues Media Crackdown, Detains Three More Journalists

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Belarusian authorities have raided the headquarters of an independent newspaper and taken into custody three of its journalists as part of a continuing crackdown on media outlets and civil society activists.

Alyaksandr Mantsevich, the editor of the Regionalnaya gazeta (Regional Newspaper), and journalists Zoya Khrutskaya and Nasta Utkina were detained on July 19, the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAZh) said.

The three were detained after a search of the newspaper's office in Maladzyechna, 80 kilometers northeast of the Belarusian capital, Minsk.

Belarus has been mired in turmoil since the disputed presidential election that gave authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka his sixth consecutive term in power.

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.

Lukashenka 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.

In recent weeks, authorities have focused on independent media outlets and journalists.

As many as 64 searches have been conducted over the last 10 days, the BAZh said in a statement, adding that the number of journalists who are now in custody had risen to 32. They are either awaiting trial or serving their sentences.

"The authorities have turned life into hell for independent journalists in Belarus with a conveyor belt of searches and arrests," BAZh head Andrey Bastunets said. "There is an impression that the authorities have decided to leave the country without journalists."

Earlier on July 19, the authorities froze the bank accounts of two civil rights groups without explanation.

Officials from the Belarusian PEN Club and the charitable organization Imena (Names) said they were informed of the move on July 19, without being given a reason explaining the decision.

The PEN Club, led by writer Svetlana Alexievich, a Nobel Prize laureate and member of the Coordination Council of the Belarusian opposition, said on Telegram that the organization's account had been frozen by the Investigative Committee in a decision made on July 13.

The Coordination Council is a body set up by the political opposition in Belarus last year to facilitate the transfer of power in the country following a presidential election in August 2020 that the opposition says was rigged and the West has refused to accept.

The same day, Imena founder Katsyaryna Sinyuk said her group's bank account was frozen by the Investigative Committee as of July 14.

Sinyuk's group was among at least 19 NGOs and media organizations raided by police on July 14, after which at least a dozen people were detained.

In a related development, a court in Minsk on July 19 also handed out prison sentences ranging from five to nine years to 11 people who were accused of coordinating "radical actions" and planning arson on a messaging app.

The Vyasna human rights center recognized the 11 people convicted on July 19 as political prisoners, saying there are a total of 562 in the country now.

Crisis In Belarus

Read our coverage as Belarusians continue to demand the resignation of Alyaksandr Lukashenka amid a brutal crackdown on protesters. The West refuses to recognize him as the country's legitimate leader after an August 2020 election considered fraudulent.

Belarus has been mired in turmoil since the disputed presidential election that gave authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka his sixth consecutive term in power.

Lukashenka 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.

The EU recently 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.

In April, Belarusian Foreign Minister Uladzimer Makey publicly warned that further Western sanctions against Lukashenka's government would be met by a crackdown on the country's civil society.

"Any further toughening of the sanctions will lead to the situation where the civil society [in Belarus] of which they [in the West] care, will stop functioning. And that will be, I believe, absolutely grounded in the current situation," Makey said at the time.

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