(New York, NY) — During the early morning hours on Tuesday, Belarusian security forces entered the homes and offices of more than 30 journalists and human rights defenders, seizing money, equipment, and personal documents, and detaining more than 30 people. While most were later released, reports suggest at least three are still being held. PEN America condemns these unjust attacks on journalists and activists, and calls on the Belarusian government to cease its unrelenting assault on the rights of its people.

The raids targeted the offices of the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) and the Viasna Human Rights Center, which has multiple branches across Belarus and publishes statements, analytical reports, and crucial information about political prisoners. The homes of members of both organizations were also targeted, including those of the BAJ chairman Andrei Bastunets, press secretary Barys Haretski, and lawyer Aleh Aheyeu. Bastunets was among those temporarily detained. 

“These searches and detentions are a shocking escalation of the Belarusian government’s ongoing crackdown on human rights, and indicate the authorities’ utter disregard for press freedom and freedom of expression and association,” said Polina Sadovskaya, PEN America’s Eurasia program director. “Journalists and human rights activists are being targeted for doing their jobs, and the government is making it quite obvious it views those jobs as a threat. The international community must continue to focus on the abuses taking place in Belarus, and to support those who are taking great risks to document and share information about the government’s persistent attacks on human rights.”

The police raids are linked to a criminal case opened under article 342 of the Belarusian criminal code, which refers to the organization and preparation of actions and events that violate public order, as well as participation in those same events. Since August 2020, article 342 has been invoked frequently in the face of ongoing protest actions responding to the results of an illegitimate election that allowed the current government to stay in power.   

According to reports, those targeted in today’s raids include members of Viasna branches in Minsk, Mahilou, Mazyr, and Svetlahorsk, including Natalya Satsunkevich, Dmitry Soloviev, Ales Bialiatski, Aliaksei Kolchyn, Barys Buhel, Uladzimir Tseliapun, and Alena Maslyukova. Other human rights activists and volunteers targeted include Vladimir Velichkin, Ekaterina Bazhko, and Anna Bogdanovich in Brest; Anna Tretyakova, an activist in Vitebsk; and Valery Slepukhin in Homiel. In Minsk, Andriy Poluda, Yevgeny Parashchenko, and Christina Richter were also subjected to searches. Raids also occurred at the homes of journalists. In Homiel, riot police came to the homes of Anatoly Gotovchits and freelancer Larisa Shchyrakova, and in Mahilou, authorities raided the home of journalist Ales Burakov Jr.

Members of Congress joined PEN America recently marking a day of solidarity with the Belarusian people; you can sign PEN America’s statement of support for the people of Belarus, defending their right to free expression