Belarusian authorities detain over 20 in new wave of arrests

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Belarusian authorities have detained over 20 people in the latest wave of arrests, continuing their sweeping crackdown on dissent a year after a disputed presidential election, human rights activists said Thursday.

Belarus was rocked by protests, which were fueled by the Aug. 9, 2020 re-election of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko to a sixth term in a vote that the opposition and the West rejected as a sham. Lukashenko responded to demonstrations, the largest of which drew up to 200,000 people, with massive repressions that saw more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten by police.

Belarusian authorities have ramped up the clampdown in recent months, arresting scores of independent journalists, activists and all those deemed not loyal. Viasna human rights center said Thursday that more than 20 people have been detained over the past two days in six cities across the country.

Andrey Dmitriyeu, who was among the challengers to Lukashenko in the Aug. 9, 2020 presidential vote, was detained for interrogation following a search in his Minsk apartment on Thursday. Dmitriyeu was released later in the day, and it was unclear if he faced any charges.

And Ihar Lyashchenya, the former Belarusian ambassador to Slovenia, was arrested Thursday on charges of “organizing mass disturbances,” accusations that carry a prison sentence of up to eight years. When the post-election protests erupted, Lyashchenya publicly criticized the crackdown on demonstrators and was stripped of his rank by Lukashenko.

Those arrested also include lawyers, political and environmental activists who were part of the Skhod (Assembly) civic initiative intended to encourage a national dialogue.

Protests have withered as authorities have moved relentlessly to stamp out any sign of dissent, and opposition leaders have been either jailed or forced to leave the country.

Amid the continuing crackdown, several dozen of women dressed in white and carrying red flowers to represent the colors of the opposition’s red-and-white flag, marched across the Belarusian capital in a silent protest on Thursday.

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