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3 human rights activists arrested in Belarus as a crackdown on the opposition persists

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Three activists of Viasna, the main human rights group in harshly repressive Belarus, have been arrested and charged with participating in an extremist organization, state television reported Thursday.

The arrests were the latest in a long campaign by authorities to stifle opposition and independent media in the country, which has been under the authoritarian rule of President Alexander Lukashenko since 1994.

A long-lasting wave of large protests arose after presidential elections in August 2020 whose disputed results gave Lukashenko a new term in office. Since then, authorities have cracked down severely on dissidents. All prominent opposition figures are now in prison or have taken exile abroad.

Viasna counts some 1,400 political prisoners in Belarus, including group founder Ales Bialiatski, a winner of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize.

The three activists whose arrests were reported Thursday face up to seven years in prison if convicted on charges of participating in an extremist organization. The report said they had attended court proceedings of others facing political charges, recorded them and passed the information to unspecified “extremist organizations abroad.”