Police arrest more than 100 people as they rally for further protests against President Alexander Lukashenko.
Belarusian police have arrested more than 100 people, including five journalists, local media and an advocacy group said as they gathered for further rallies against President Alexander Lukashenko.
Protests erupted in the former Soviet country last August after Lukashenko claimed a sixth presidential term in a vote that the opposition and Western diplomats said was rigged.
But protests were stifled during the Belarusian winter following a violent crackdown that saw thousands of protesters arrested, several killed and hundreds sentenced to long prison terms for the unrest.
Opposition channel Telegram Nexta, which mobilizes and coordinates protesters, called for a “second wave” of rallies on Saturday.
Minsk town square, where the protest was due to start on Saturday afternoon, was surrounded by police vehicles and prison vans, and the roads leading to it were closed.
No large-scale protests took place at the site, although more than 100 people were arrested during the day, the RIA said citing a spokeswoman for the Belarusian Interior Ministry.
Journalist @AndrzejPoczobut is one of the best professionals. It, @AngelikaBorys and other members of the Polish minority have been arrested in recent days following a deepening of the diplomatic standoff between #Poland and # Belarus. Persecution for someone’s ethnic group is so weak pic.twitter.com/DAn8Mv0bGG
– Hanna Liubakova (@HannaLiubakova) March 27, 2021
Human rights group Viasna said law enforcement detained at least 110 people, including five journalists, across the country.
Among those detained were Galina Ulasik and Anna Kaltygina, editors of the opposition newspaper TUT.by, said the organization, whose channel on the Telegram messaging app has more than 400,000 subscribers.
Another outlet, Nasha Niva, which has 90,000 Telegram readers, said its editor Yahor Martsinovich was also arrested in the square, along with a photographer.
Almost all of the opposition leaders were arrested or forced to leave, including Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who fled to Lithuania shortly after the August vote.
A group that represents the Polish minority in Belarus has also been appointed by the police.
Images circulating on social media showed downtown Minsk heavily guarded by military vehicles.
Tikhanovskaya shared a video on Twitter, writing: “Siloviki brutally attacked a cyclist today in Minsk.
“In Belarus, you can’t just leave your home and be sure to come back safely. Belarusians have lived in this reality for over six months. “
Siloviki brutally attacked a cyclist today in Minsk. In Belarus, you cannot just leave your home and be sure to come back safely. Belarusians have been living in this reality for more than six months. pic.twitter.com/SjsNKRTht3
– Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya (@Tsihanouskaya) March 27, 2021
Rachel Denber, deputy director of the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch, described Martsinovich’s arrest as “terrible news” in a Twitter message.
Terrible news, amid the escalating crackdown on independent journalists in Belarus, another arrest. This time, editor-in-chief of the eminent @nashaniva —Yahor Martsinovich https://t.co/gNtW3T1sj5
– Rachel Denber (@Rachel_Denber) March 27, 2021
Earlier this month, Belarus jailed a Tut.by journalist for six months for publishing medical records revealing that a protester who died after being arrested by police had no alcohol in his system, as the security forces had said so.
Nexta called on the demonstrators on Saturday afternoon to regroup and organize splintered actions in all their cities.
Protesters also gathered in scattered rallies on Thursday to mark Belarusian Freedom Day, which the opposition commemorates each year on the anniversary of a declaration of independence in 1918.
Viasna said police detained at least 176 people during the day.
Despite being slapped by EU sanctions for the violent crackdown, Lukashenko and his allies have stood their ground, with the authoritarian leader saying he has resisted a West-led revolution.