Authorities in Belarus are cracking down on journalists and activists. They’ve raided newspaper offices and detained reporters. The world watches as citizens won’t be silenced.
In August 2020, Alexander Lukashenko won a sixth term as president of Belarus. The win surprised Belarusians, who immediately began protesting. The vote, most say, was rigged. Nations in the West agreed.
Belarusian authorities responded with a massive crackdown. Police beat thousands of demonstrators and arrested more than 35,000 people. Opposition figures found themselves jailed or forced to leave the country. Independent media outlets have had their offices searched and journalists arrested.
The Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) claims Belarusian officials conducted a total of 64 searches in 10 days. Officials arrested 32 journalists. BAJ head Andrei Bastunets calls the actions “a conveyor belt of searches and arrests.”
The U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of the press. But in many countries (China, North Korea, Cuba to name a few), that right either doesn’t exist or is under attack. The loss of a free press not only reveals serious problems but also contributes to the collapse of other institutions and principles.
Authorities have frozen the bank accounts of the Belarusian PEN Center, a writers’ association. Svetlana Alexievich, winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in literature, heads the group. She is also a member of a council of opposition advocates. Alexievich fled Belarus last year after being summoned for questioning by a state agency.
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya was Lukashenko’s main challenger in the debated 2020 election. She left Belarus under official pressure immediately after the vote. In July, she traveled to Washington, D.C., for meetings with officials and U.S. House members. Her goal was to rally support for the Belarusian opposition.
“President Biden says that the world is struggling between autocracy and democracy, so the front line of the struggle is in Belarus at the moment,” Tsikhanouskaya says. She’s calling upon the United States to apply serious measures against Lukashenko’s regime.
“As a champion of democracy,” she says, “the U.S.A. can get help get things done.”
Meanwhile, a Belarusian court has handed out prison sentences ranging from five to nine years to 11 people accused of coordinating “radical actions.”
Yevgeny Propolsky received an eight-year prison sentence. He claims investigators tortured him to force confessions. “They threatened me, beat and tortured me with electric current,” he says.
Western nations have responded to Lukashenko’s crackdown by imposing sanctions on Belarus. The European Union ramped up restrictions after Lukashenko diverted an airplane in order to arrest an opposition journalist. (See “Belarusian Hijacking.”)
Unhappy about the sanctions, Lukashenko has begun allowing illegal migration into the EU through his country. He says Belarus could contain the flow of migrants—if the EU removes its sanctions.
But the Belarusian opposition isn’t giving up. “[Lukashenko’s officials] have the power, they have weapons, and they have been trying to silence people,” Tsikhanouskaya says. “But we have been standing up to them for a year.”
Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy. — Proverbs 31:9