Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko on Friday claimed that authorities had arrested hundreds of individuals in the capital and other cities across the country in the wake of a shootout on Tuesday that claimed the lives of an opposition-supporting IT technician and a member of the state security service, called the KGB to this day.
The 31-year-old IT specialist was labeled a "terrorist" by authorities after he had posted content critical of the Lukashenko regime online. Some posts also featured the red-and-white flag of the opposition. When authorities raided his Minsk apartment on suspicion of "terrorist activities," a gunfight ensued, with the man killing a KGB agent before he, too, was shot and killed. The man's wife also arrested at the scene.
Lukashenko on Friday vowed that his government would "not forgive them [opposition supporters] for the death of this guy." He also held a moment of silence in honor of the slain officer.
Friday's arrests, which were confirmed by rights groups, seem to have been connected to social media posts commenting on the Tuesday incident. Earlier in the week, the deputy head of the Interior Ministry called for the mass arrest of "freaks" that had posted comments.
The Belarus organization Viasna Human Rights Center says those arrested could face up to 12 years in jail on charges of "inciting social enmity." Social media comments after the shooting were deemed as insulting to members of the regime in Minsk.
The crackdown continues
On Wednesday, the Information Ministry temporarily blocked online access to the Belarus subsidiary of Russia's popular Pravda newspaper, which averages some 20,000 visits per day.
Though no information was given as to why it had been blocked, the news outlet had previously run a story on Tuesday's shooting that had, in part, portrayed the IT technician in a positive light. Russia, which supports Lukashenko, said it disagreed with the suspension, claiming that "it violates the principles of media freedom."
Belarus was gripped by mass protests that quickly gave way to severe repression, mass arrests and sackings after Lukashenko, who has ruled since 1994, claimed victory in the country's August 2020 presidential elections The severely flawed vote and the harsh crackdowns that followed sparked waves of international sanctions against the former Soviet nation.
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the exiled opposition leader whose supporters claim she won the vote, wrote of Tuesday's killings: "The law no longer protects people. And now they are forced to defend themselves."
js/msh (AP, dpa, Reuters)