Amnesty International says the Belarusian authorities are carrying out a "full-scale purge of dissenting voices" as part of a crackdown on freedom of expression ahead of a presidential election set for August 9.
The authorities are using "repressive laws to stifle criticism ahead of the elections, where President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is running for the sixth consecutive term," the London-based human rights group's senior campaigner on Belarus, Aisha Jung, said on June 26.
Jung was responding to news that at least three prominent Belarusian bloggers -- Ihar Losik, who is also an RFE/RL consultant on new-media technologies; Syarhey Pyatrukhin; and Syarhey Sparish -- were arrested the day before on what she called "spurious" charges.
"Opposition candidates, supporters, and independent media have faced arbitrary arrest, hefty fines, and incarceration. Now those active on social media are being targeted," she said.
Jung noted that at least two more popular bloggers -- Uladzimer Nyaronski and Uladzimer Tsyhanovich -- are already under arrest and facing criminal charges.
She called for all of the bloggers to be immediately and unconditionally released, saying, "Nobody should be punished for using the Internet to express opinions about the government and its policies."
The Belarusian authorities "need reminding that free speech is a right, not a crime," the Amnesty International campaigner said.