Advertisement

Belarusian authorities confirm raids against opposition activists over new 'people's embassies'

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Belarusian authorities said Wednesday they have launched dozens of raids to target those suspected of “extremist” activities in new efforts by the political opposition to create “people's embassies” abroad.

The raids are the latest move in a crackdown on dissent by the government of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko. Belarus' Investigative Committee, a top state criminal investigation agency, said its agents have searched apartments and offices belonging to those suspected of involvement.

The Belarusian opposition has announced the creation of “people’s embassies” to represent its interests and counter Belarusian state propaganda in 24 countries, including European Union member states, the U.K., Canada, Australia and Brazil.

The Investigative Committee’s spokesman, Siarhei Kabakovich, said participants in the effort to set up “pseudo-embassies” have attempted to wage “information campaigns aimed at discrediting our country” and hamper Belarusian diplomats’ contacts with foreign officials and public organizations, undermining the country's security.

The Investigative Committee said that over 100 Belarusians who were accused of taking part in the effort could face charges of involvement in “extremist activities” that carry prison terms of up to seven years and the confiscation of their assets.

The Viasna human rights group said earlier this month that at least 4,690 people have been convicted on politically motivated charges since the August 2020 presidential election that handed a fifth term to Lukashenko and fueled major protests.

Authorities responded with a crackdown. More than 35,000 people were arrested, thousands were beaten by police while in custody and dozens of nongovernmental organizations and independent media outlets were shut down.

There are currently more than 1,400 political prisoners in Belarus, including Viasna's founder, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ales Bialiatski.

Belarus' opposition leader-in-exile Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who left the country under authorities' pressure after challenging Lukashenko in the 2020 vote, said that the latest raids against opposition activists reflected Lukashenko's fear.

“The new wave of searches and repressions in Belarus proves that Lukashenko is frightened by the solidarity and support offered to us by the leaders and politicians of democratic nations across the world," Tsikhanouskaya told The Associated Press. “Searches, arrests and trials are on a conveyor belt in Belarus, but hundreds of thousands of Belarusians have fled abroad, and each of them could become a 'people's ambassador' upholding the country's democratic future."