At least 37 people were detained by the authorities in Belarus on Wednesday in a renewed crackdown on the families of regime critics, the country’s leading human rights group has reported.
“KGB officers are visiting the relatives of political prisoners and former political prisoners en masse today,” said Minsk-based human rights centre Viasna, going on to warn regime critics and their families to be aware of the crackdown and to “clean up correspondence which could potentially be of interest to the authorities”.
The searches are reported to have been conducted on the pretext of finding those who had funded or participated in “extremist activities”.
Officers reportedly told some of those interrogated that their detention was linked to their involvement with INeedHelpBY, a non-profit organisation that assists victims of political repression. The group was added to the Belarusian authorities’ list of “extremist organisations” on Wednesday.
Belarus has drawn criticism from international organisations for using counter-terrorism and anti-extremism legislation to target those who took part in the mass anti-government protests that shook the country in 2020–2021.
Exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya warned of “yet another wave of searches and mass detentions in Belarus,” and called upon the global community to “respond decisively to this atrocity”.
The arrests come ahead of an expected meeting between Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin this week. Earlier this month, Lukashenko signed amendments into law that protect him and his family from prosecution should he ever voluntarily step down.