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Belarus' regime is targeting, among others, the most vulnerable groups in society, representatives of the neighboring country's non-governmental organizations have said.
NGOs: Belarusian regime targets most vulnerable people
© Reuters / Scanpix

The regime closed a branch of a children’s hospice in the Belarusian city of Hrodna last year and is planning to shut a second one after Easter, Volha Vyalichka, its director, told a news conference in Vilnius on Wednesday.

"The problems started after I became a member of the initiative group of (potential presidential challenger) Viktar Babaryka and later was an independent observer in the presidential election," Vyalichka said.

"In the wake of the brutal events that I and the whole world saw, my fellow activists and I formed the People's Trust Council and demanded that Hrodna's authorities put an end to the atrocities that took place after the election," the director said

"Then they put pressure on me. They tried to take my own children away, and then the hospice was persecuted, too," she added.

The woman says she was arrested but was released from custody after the parents of the hospice's patients staged a protest, and later fled to Lithuania together with her family.

The authorities want to take away the premises of the hospice because it "mobilized volunteers who sewed gowns and masks for medical staff" who lacked protective equipment, according to Vyalichka.

Mikhail Matskevich, a former lawyer with the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, told the news conference that the regime had taken similar repressive measures against Siarhei Drazdowski, the head of the organization, and Aleh Hrableuski, its lawyer.

"They got involved in the protection and defense of protesting people with disabilities, and provided unpaid legal aid," he said. "Providing such assistance was treated as organizing unauthorized mass events."

Hrableuski is being held in a pre-trial detention center in Minsk, and Drazdowski, a person with disabilities, is under home arrest. Belarus' law-enforcement has opened criminal proceedings against both men, according to Matskevich.

"These examples show that Belarus' authorities keep pushing the country into totalitarian rule," he said.

Social Democratic MP Dovile Sakaliene, the organizer of the conference, said that Lithuanian parliamentarians from across the political spectrum "are united for the protection of human rights and against the illegal persecution and torture of people".

Conservative MP Zygimantas Pavilionis, the head of the Seimas Committee on Foreign Affairs, said that Lithuania would seek that EU diplomats be given access to the trials of opposition activists.

He also said that efforts would continue to be made to help Belarus hold free elections by the end of this year.

Franak Viacorka, advisor to Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, said that Alexander Lukashenko's regime "is destroying everything that doesn't fall into his vertical power structure".

"The hospice has fallen victim to his bloody policies. (...) He has rallied power structures around him. Anyone who doesn't fit into these structures is a potential enemy," he said.

One of them is Maria Kalesnikava, a close ally of Tsikhanouskaya and a member of Belarus' Coordination Council.

Tatyana Khomich, Kalesnikava's sister, said via a video link that the regime has not only arrested her and intends to put her to trial, but is also trying to limit her right to defense: the woman's lawyers are either arrested or deprived of their license.

Belarus has been gripped by unprecedented protests since Lukashenko claimed victory in last August's presidential election which the opposition and Western countries say was rigged.

Belarus' authorities have arrested a number of opposition leaders and forced some of them to leave the country.

Protesters demand the resignation of the authoritarian leader, the release of political prisoners and new elections.

BNS
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