Authorities in Belarus raided the offices of an independent newspaper and arrested three of its journalists on Monday as part of a relentless crackdown on media outlets and civil society activists.
Alyaksandr Mantsevich, editor of the Regionalnaya Gazeta (Regional Newspaper), and journalists Zoya Khrutskaya and Nasta Utkina, were detained, said the Belarusian Association of Journalists, or BAJ.
They were taken into custody after the search of the newspaper’s office in Maladzyechna, 80 kilometers (50 miles) northeast of the Belarusian capital, Minsk.
BAJ said that a total of 64 searches have been conducted over the last 10 days. Thirty-two journalists in total are in custody, either awaiting trial or serving their sentences.
“The authorities have turned life into hell for independent journalists in Belarus with a conveyor belt of searches and arrests,” BAJ head Andrei Bastunets said. “There is an impression that the authorities have decided to leave the country without journalists.”
On Monday, authorities also froze the bank accounts of the Belarusian PEN Center, an association of writers led by Svetlana Alexievich, the winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in literature.
Alexievich, a member of the opposition Coordination Council, left Belarus last year after being summoned for questioning by the state investigative agency.
On Monday, a court in Minsk also handed out prison sentences ranging from five to nine years to 11 people who were accused of coordinating “radical actions” and planning arson on a messaging app.
One of them, 26-year-old Yevgeny Propolsky, who was sentenced to eight years in prison, said during the trial that investigators beat and tortured him to force confessions.