MOSCOW | The Belarusian news agency BelaPan and several of its employees were targeted by searches and arrests on Wednesday, further illustration of the crackdown carried out by President Alexander Lukashenko’s regime against the media and the opposition.

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The searches were carried out as part of an investigation for “organization of acts violating public order”, according to the Investigation Committee, the body responsible for the main criminal investigations in the country.

The agency was also subjected to a tax audit which found “violations” in the payment of taxes, which can potentially lead to charges of tax evasion, according to the same source.

“We will continue to work”, for his part promised BelaPan in a press release, specifying that part of the editorial staff was abroad and will take up the torch.

The agency denounced a “continuation of the policy of suppressing freedom of expression in Belarus” and demanded the immediate release of those arrested.

BelaPan deputy editor-in-chief Alexander Zaitsev saw his cell phone, hard drive and tablet seized, according to the Belarusian Association of Journalists.

The home of the agency’s editor-in-chief, Irina Levchina, and that of a BelaPan journalist, Irina Tourtchina, were also searched.

Ms Turchina and one of her colleagues, journalist Zakhar Chtcherbakov, were questioned by investigators, before being released.

But BelaPan’s accountant, Ekaterina Boïeva, and the agency’s former director, Dmitry Novojilov, were arrested and remanded in custody in Minsk, according to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, which calls on the authorities to “release them immediately. “.

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“We can shut down independent media, we can arrest their employees, we can intimidate people. But no one can suppress thoughts and ideas, ”she stressed.

The websites of the agency and were no longer accessible since midday.

In the morning, they were still able to publish two messages announcing the searches.

For months, the Lukashenko regime has relentlessly pursued a crackdown on the massive protest movement that emerged in August 2020 to contest his re-election.

This movement brought together tens of thousands of demonstrators for months before running out of steam with arrests, violence, forced exiles and trials.

The crackdown also hit the media with the imprisonment of two journalists from the opposition television station Belsat and the blocking of one of the main opposition online media, Nacha Niva, and the main platform. country internet, TUT.BY.

Minsk also arrested at the end of May an exiled journalist, Roman Protassevich, detained after the interception over Belarusian territory of the airliner in which he was.

In power since 1994, Mr. Lukashenko denied himself, during a recent major televised press conference, any repression in his country and accused his detractors of having wanted to instigate a “coup” with the help of the West, which would thus seek to attack Russia.

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