On Tuesday morning, the police made an unexpected visit to the home of Andrey Bastunets, Chairman of the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), the organisation says on Telegram.
The policemen also came to BAJ deputy chairman, lawyer Aleh Aheyeu. Bastunets’ wife Sabina Brylo told the newspaper Nasha Niva that her husband was taken away by police officers of the Minsk City Department of Interior. He was driven to the BAJ office, where the search kicked off as well.
Search at BAJ office is over. Doors are sealed. Equipment, membership forms and other documents have been seized. Andrei Bastunets has no procedural status so far and is free. #belarus #PressFreedom https://t.co/CUB62syocY pic.twitter.com/CR79TzyrcX
— БАЖ | BAJ (@baj_by) February 16, 2021
They seized a system unit and applications for BAJ membership. They inspected all filing-cabinets and work seats. Bastunets’ apartment is to be searched too.
Unknown people knocked on the door of BAJ spokesman Barys Haretski. at about 7.30 am; the search lasted for nearly three hours. At first, the visitors demanded he put his arms behind the back, but the situation was eased when they saw Haretski’s three children; the takedown team was allowed to leave.
“They checked everything, even looking into the refrigerator and trash bins. They confiscated laptops, phones, family money (not much),” Haretski said.
Lawyer Krystsina Richter’s place is being searched as part of a criminal case under Article 342 (‘organisation and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order, or active participation in them’). Her mobile phone and documents related to the BAJ’s activities have been seized.
The searches are being conducted in organisations which ‘positioning themselves as human rights watchdogs’ as part of a preliminary investigation aiming to establish the circumstances of ‘financing protests’, the Belarusian Investigative Committee reports.
In the town of Rechytsa, the local police visited the parents of Andrey Stryzhak, one of the leaders of the BYSOL Foundation. They conducted a search and took away a hard drive and an old mobile phone.
In Homiel. the representatives of the Main Directorate for Combatting Organised Crime and Corruption raided the flat of freelance journalist Larysa Shchyrakova, allegedly as part of the criminal case under Article 342. The police have also arrived at the place of Anatol Hatouchyts, another Homiel-based journalist.
In Mahiliou, a search is being carried out at the apartment of freelancer Ales Burakou and his father.
Not only independent media workers are in the crosshairs; human rights defenders are also a target. the earches are reported to have started at Alyaksei Kolchyn’s and Barys Bukhel’s, the both men are members of the Mahiliou branch of the human rights centre Viasna. The law enforcers are on domiciliary visits at the places of Uladzimir Tselyapun and Alena Maslyukova, the heads of Viasna’s Mazyr and Svetlahorsk branches. They made a raid on the flat of Andrey Paluda, a coordinator of the Human Rights Defenders Against the Death Penalty in Belarus campaign.
The searches were conducted at the parents’ of Katsyaryna Bazhko and Hanna Bahdanovich, Brest-based volunteers of the local branch of Viasna. Human rights activist Uladzimir Vyalichkin‘s phone is unavailable.
The apartment of Yauhenia Parashchanka, the press secretary of the Belarusian House of Human Rights named after Barys Zvozkau, is being raided. The search has taken place at vitsebsk-based human rights activist Iryna Tratsyakova’s place.