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.