Event Management Firms Are The Latest Target In Belarus Crackdown On Dissent

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Police in Belarus have raided dozens of event management companies suspected of opposition ties as part of on ongoing crackdown against dissent, a human rights center says.

Authorities released videos of detained staffers seemingly admitting to links with opposition leaders, and to participating in the mass protest marches in 2020. The videos could not immediately be verified, and it was not clear whether people spoke under duress.

The 2020 demonstrations swept Belarus after President Alexander Lukashenko claimed victory in an election condemned by many critics and observers as fraudulent. The pro-democracy marches that followed provoked a violent backlash from police, who detained about 35,000 people.

Belarusian human rights center Viasna said at least four people were detained in the latest raids, which took place in the Belarusan capital of Minsk and across the country.

Among those detained was Belarusian comic Kiryl Allahverdzyan, who was filmed by police saying that he had been invited by opposition TV channel Belsat to appear in clips that would portray Belarus’ law enforcement “in a humorous way."

In another clip released on a social media channel close to Belarusian authorities, the deputy director of event management firm Pink Zebra, Aleh Astralenka, said he took part in opposition marches twice in 2020. He said his company would no longer be included on the government’s register of cultural event organizers as a result of his actions.

Some 1,391 political prisoners are currently behind bars in Belarus, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ales Bialiatski, according to Viasna.

In a report published Wednesday, it said 161 people were convicted in political cases in May.

“Anyone who has ever participated in a protest or criticized Belarus’ political situation risks being arbitrarily convicted and thrown into inhumane conditions,” the report said.