Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko’s government has prevented several opposition leaders and journalists from leaving the country since the EU expanded its sanctions against senior government officials, the Belarusian Association of Journalists said.
At least eight people associated with either opposition politics, human rights activism or independent media have been prevented from leaving the former Soviet republic since Feb. 27, said Zhanna Litvina, head of the media freedom watchdog.
Litvina said by phone that she herself was prevented from leaving the country today when border guards put an “exit denied” stamp in her passport as she tried to board a flight to Warsaw at the Minsk International Airport.
“This kind of pressure is practically a tradition in Belarus, but it’s getting more intense now because of the economic problems the government is facing,” Litvina said.
Neither Alexey Begun, head of the Interior Ministry’s Citizenship and Migration service in Minsk, nor Dmitry Levchenko, head of the service’s passport and foreign travel department, could be reached immediately when Bloomberg called their offices seeking comment.
The European Union on Feb. 27 added 21 officials to a list of more than 200 it accuses of political repression, freezing their assets and banning them from entering the trading bloc. Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, expelled the EU’s representative and the Polish ambassador in Minsk in return, prompting all other EU countries to withdraw their ambassadors.
Belarus, a landlocked country between Poland and Russia, is seeking to extend payments on a bailout loan from the International Monetary Fund and receive a new $3.5 billion credit. The country has Europe’s highest inflation and interest rates, which reached 107 percent and 38 percent, respectively, last month.
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