MINSK -- Belarusian police have detained several employees of BelaPAN, a private news agency, as a crackdown on media and civil society in Belarus intensifies following last year's disputed presidential election that handed victory to authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
Belapan’s websites, belapan.by and belapan.com, also can’t be reached from both Belarus and abroad after police in Minsk on August 18 searched the homes of staff and the news agency’s office.
Later in the day, BelaPAN’s director and chief editor Iryna Leushyna, accountant Katsyaryna Boyeva, and former director Dzmitry Navazhylau were detained and placed in prison.
All three are suspected of violating laws against organizing or participating in "actions that grossly violate public order," in an apparent reference to providing news coverage of protests and opposition activities.
Another BelaPAN journalist, deputy editor-in-chief Alyaksandr Zaytsau, was interrogated but released after a search of his home, his wife said on Facebook.
Zaytsau told the Naviny.by news website that police confiscated his cell phone, a PC hard disc, a tablet computer, his journalist documents, and several business cards.
Another journalist from the agency, Iryna Turchyna, said police also searched her home and questioned her.
In January, police searched BelaPAN's headquarters and took away equipment. documents, computer hard discs, and servers, while BelaPAN's former deputy director, Andrey Alyaksandrou, was arrested and charged in January with high treason and organizing mass disorder, a charge referring to months-long mass demonstrations demanding Lukashenka's resignation and a new presidential election.
Last month, several BelaPAN journalists fled the country following another wave of searches by police of homes of independent journalists.
Lukashenka, 66 and in power since 1994, has tightened his grip on the country in recent months in a violent crackdown on dissent that has raised the ire of many Western nations.
According to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, 33 media employees are currently behind bars.
The West has not recognized the results of the August 2020 election and does not consider Lukashenka to be the country's legitimate leader. Many countries have imposed several rounds of sanctions against his regime in response to his suppression of dissent in the country.
Belarusian News Site Goes Offline After Police Raids, Arrest Of Staff