Dozens detained in Belarus after KGB shootout, prominent rights group says

Kiev, Ukraine – Belarus’ best-known human rights group said Friday that around 100 people were arrested after a shootout that killed an opposition supporter and a security officer.

Viasna Human Rights Center said the arrests took place in the capital Minsk and seven other cities and appeared to be related to comments on social media about the incident. Those arrested are charged with insulting government officials and inciting “social hostility” with up to 12 years in prison.

The Belarusian authorities reported the incident on Tuesday evening, claiming that “a particularly dangerous criminal” opened fire on security officers after they appeared in his home looking for “people involved in terrorists”. Authorities said one of the Belarusian State Security Service (KGB) officers was killed and that the perpetrator was killed by backfire.

A large US IT company founded by Belarusians, EPAM Systems, said the dead civilian was his employee, Andrei Zeltser. Last year EPAM launched a program to train Belarusian IT staff who had lost their jobs after supporting massive protests against authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko after opponents called it a sham in August 2020.

Lukashenko observed a minute’s silence on Friday at a meeting with representatives of the presidential administration in honor of the dead KGB officer and vowed not to “forgive the death of this man”.

Earlier this week, the Deputy Head of the Belarusian Ministry of Interior Nikolai Karpyankov made televised statements calling for the mass arrests of those who commented on the incident on social media, calling them “absolute freaks”.

Belarusian leading opposition activist Pavel Latushko told The Associated Press that “a fair investigation (of the incident) under Lukashenko is impossible”.

“Not only Andrei Zeltser – a calm, kind and compassionate man – was declared a terrorist. Anyone who disagreed with the regime was declared a terrorist,” Latushko told the AP from Warsaw, where he is currently in exile.

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On Wednesday, the Belarusian Ministry of Information blocked access to the Komsomolskaya Pravda website in Belarus – the Belarusian branch of the popular Russian newspaper of the same name.

The ministry did not give any reasons for the decision to block the website, which is visited by around 20,000 users daily, but access was restricted several hours after an article was published about the shooting with a comment from the dead civilian friend, who viewed him as a positive Light described.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday that the Russian authorities were “categorically not” with the move. “We believe that this violates the principles of freedom of the media. We expect the Belarusian side to create the conditions for our media to work,” said Peskov.

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