Belarus closes journalist organization, continuing crackdown

International

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko gestures while speaking during an annual press conference in Minsk, Belarus, Monday, Aug. 9, 2021.Belarus’ authoritarian leader on Monday charged that the opposition was plotting a coup in the runup to last year’s presidential election that triggered a monthslong wave of mass protests. President Alexander Lukashenko held his annual press conference on Monday, the one-year anniversary of the vote that handed him a sixth term in office but was denounced by the opposition and the West as rigged. (Andrei Stasevich /BelTA photo via AP)

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Belarus has ordered the closure of the country’s largest independent journalists’ organization, the latest move by authorities to suppress critical reporting in a yearlong crackdown on dissent.

Friday’s order by the country’s supreme court to liquidate the Belarusian Association of Journalists follows the jailing of some 30 journalists, raids on newspaper offices, blocking the websites of major independent media and closing the PEN Center writers’ organization that was headed by Nobel literature laureate Svetlana Alexieveich.

Belarus also cancelled accreditation for foreign news organizations after massive protests began in August 2020 following presidential elections that official but disputed results say gave authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko a sixth term in office. Lukashenko has led the former Soviet republic since 1994.

The formal reason for the order was that two of the BAJ’s six branches allegedly ended their lease contracts. The organization denied the accusation, but was unable to provide supporting documents, since the organization’s office was sealed after searches and confiscation of equipment in July.

“We will continue to do our job, regardless of the decision of the courts, which clumsily fulfill the political order of the authorities,” BAJ head Andrei Bastunets told The Associated Press. “Expanding the space for freedom of speech has been the mission of the organization for over a quarter of a century, but now the darkest times have come in Belarus.”

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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