Dozens of NGOs have been forcibly shut down in Belarus as part of a campaign by Belarusian authorities against groups which are accused of undermining the regime of President Alexander Lukashenko. The groups are accused of spreading “destructive ideas” and working on behalf of foreign powers. Lukashenko has spent the last year moving aggressively against internal opposition and any potential international influence.
Lukashenko targets NGOs
Alexander Lukashenko is the first and only president of the Republic of Belarus, having held that office since the nation became independent with the fall of the Soviet Union.
Sometimes described as the last dictator in Europe, Lukashenko is widely accused of rigging elections to keep himself in power.
It was one of these elections which led to the current crackdown on NGOs and dissenters within Belarus. The 2020 presidential election resulted in an easy victory for Lukashenko.
Accusations of election rigging immediately resurfaced, leading to widespread street protests against the president which received significant international support and attention.
The Belarusian government attacked the protests as foreign interference and claimed that they were being staged in part by NATO.
A number of countries, including the United States, have refused to recognize Lukashenko as the victor in the election and have applied sanctions his regime.
The targeted NGOs are devoted to a variety of causes, including organizations dedicated to women’s and disabled rights, which are not explicitly political.
The Lukashenko government is accusing the dozens of NGOs of engaging in activities which are “different” from what their charters specify as their purposes.
The government has arrested thousands of people in the nationwide crackdown and Lukashenko has shown that he is not afraid to risk an international backlash with his aggressive tactics.
An opposition journalist was arrested in May after his flight was forcibly diverted to Minsk, where Belarusian authorities boarded the plane.
A Belarusian sprinter narrowly escaped being forcibly taken back to Belarus from Tokyo after criticizing coaches at the Olympics. Poland has now granted her asylum.
The campaign against the NGOs is being described by the Lukashenko government as “clean-up” of “bandits and foreign agents.”