Belarusian government moves close tens organizations that were the backbone of the country’s once vibrant civil society.
These groups work on issues such as the rights of people with disabilities, the environment, media freedoms, retiree rights, among others. They include internationally renowned organizations such as the Belarusian Association of Journalists founded by Nobel Laureate Svetlana Alexievich, and the Belarusian Press Club.
Today, the Minsk city government is shutting down Lawtrend and Human Constant, leading groups that document and provide legal services to victims of rights violations, including pro bono legal defense, and conduct legislative analysis. The authorities used the Russian term “liquidated” which is common for such closure procedures, but Stalinist overtones resonate.
The forced closures came a week after numerous raids on more than 40 groups, the seizure of equipment and the arrest of many of the country’s most prominent human rights activists who are now in detention pending trial.
These recent measures are the latest in a year of tyranny in Belarus, as the government continues to punish those who took to the streets in the aftermath of the August 9 presidential election to protest what they saw as a stolen election and demand change. More than 500 people are in prison on charges related to the protests. Authorities arrested journalists, raided and shut down media outlets, and now they are eviscerating groups that protect a wide range of rights. They have also muzzled the lawyers, who cannot even discuss the charges against their clients in these cases without facing the charges themselves.
It should come as no surprise that a government that will resort to a false bomb threat to force a plane to land in order to arrest an activist, does not hesitate to take action to close to swing a metaphorical ax across Civil society.
For decades, human rights and other civil society groups have managed to survive despite the authoritarian Lukashenka autocracy. They suffered serial harassment, marginalization and arrest of staff members. But this week’s purge marks the end of civil society in Belarus as we know it. He will certainly live, but probably underground and in exile.
Let’s stop calling it a crackdown. At a government meeting on July 22, President Alexander Lukashenka himself shamelessly called recent actions “”a purge. “These actions are a disgrace and the main international players should unite their efforts to defend Belarusian civil society and provide a strong response.