Belarus Carries Out Wave Of Detentions For Subscribing To 'Extremist' Telegram Channels

By RFE/RL's Belarus Service

Belarusian police have detained dozens of people in the southeastern city of Homel on charges of subscribing to “extremist” social-media channels in the latest crackdown on freedoms in the country.

Authorities have declared hundreds of opposition Telegram channels and social-media sites “extremist” since Belarus was engulfed by protests after a disputed presidential election in August 2020, and anyone operating or using such sites can face jail time or fines.

The Viasna human rights center said on October 26 that around 30 people were charged the day before for allegedly using banned Telegram channels.

In once case, a 22-year-old student was picked up off the street by security agents in a car who threatened her with violence unless she provided the password to her phone, Viasna said.

After providing access to the phone, she was detained for subscribing to "extremist" Telegram channels and sentenced in a three-minute trial to 15 days in jail, Viasna said.

Authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s government has cracked down hard on the pro-democracy movement, arresting thousands of people and pushing most of the top opposition figures out of the country since last year’s election, which is widely considered to have been rigged.

Viasna says it considers 833 people as political prisoners for exercising their basic rights to peacefully protest, express opinions, or engage in legitimate political activities.