Belarus Issues Warning to Rights Group


MOSCOW - The authorities in Belarus have issued a warning to a prominent human rights group, accusing it of unlawfully distorting information about the situation in the country amid a continued crackdown on opponents of President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko.

The warning could lead to the closing of the group, the Belarussian Helsinki Committee, which has operated in Belarus for 15 years.

At issue is a letter the organization sent recently to the United Nations detailing the intimidation of the lawyers of opposition leaders arrested after a large protest against Mr. Lukashenko's victory in disputed elections last month.

More than 30 opposition leaders face a maximum of 15 years in prison for their roles in the protest, which the police violently dispersed. Lawyers have accused the authorities of granting almost no access to their clients and threatening them with disbarment or worse for bringing their complaints to the news media.

"The Justice Ministry has issued a written warning to the Belarussian Helsinki Committee for violations of the law on civic organizations and mass media and for spreading dubious information discrediting the law enforcement and justice agencies of the republic," the Justice Ministry said in a statement released late on Wednesday.

The ministry said the Helsinki Committee's letter to the United Nations was "an attempt to discredit the Republic of Belarus in the eyes of the international community."

The European Union is considering imposing sanctions against top Belarussian officials, including Mr. Lukashenko, in response to government actions after the protest last month. For weeks, the security services, still called the K.G.B. in Belarus, have been harassing independent media organizations and human rights groups considered sympathetic to the opposition.

Earlier this month, the K.G.B. raided the offices of the Helsinki Committee, confiscating several computers and briefly detaining its director, Oleg Gulak.

The group has denied wrongdoing and plans to appeal the Justice Ministry warning in an effort to avoid being shut down, said Garry Pogonyailo, a lawyer for the group.

"If within a year the Justice Ministry or another agency delivers two such warnings for the same offense," he said, "the organization can be liquidated."


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