Belarus closes journalist organisation, continuing crackdown

 Belarus has closed the largest independent journalist's organization in the country. This is the latest attempt by authorities to suppress criticism of the year-long crackdown against dissent.

Friday's decision by the supreme court of Belarus to dissolve the Belarusian Association of Journalists followed the arrest of around 30 journalists, raids of newspaper offices, blocking of websites of major independent media, and the closing of the PEN Centre writers' organization that was led by Svetlana Alexandrievich, a Nobel Literature laureate.

After massive protests that began in August 2020, following the disputed results of presidential elections in which authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko was elected to a sixth term, Belarus has also cancelled accreditation for foreign news organizations. Lukashenko is the leader of the former Soviet republic, having been in office since 1994.

Officially, the order was issued because two of six BAJ''s branches had allegedly terminated their lease contracts. Although the organisation denied the accusations, they were unable to support them with supporting documents. The office of the organisation was sealed in July after equipment confiscation and searches.

Andrei Bastunets, head of BAJ, stated to The Associated Press that "we will continue doing our job, regardless the decision of courts which clumsily fulfill the political order of authorities."

"Expanding freedom of speech has been the mission for the organization for more than a quarter century. But now, the worst times are in Belarus."