BY NATASHA BARSOTTI — An Associated Press report says police in Belarus are targeting gays, raiding their clubs, detaining patrons and questioning activists after they attempted to register their advocacy organization GayBelarus.
According to the report, mere days after several GayBelarus members submitted the paperwork required to establish the organization to the justice ministry, police raided a nightclub in the city of Vitebsk, ordering patrons to stand against a wall and asking them to state their sexual orientation.
GayBelarus leader Siarhey Androsenka, who was reportedly in the club at the time, told AP that it felt "more like a special operation against criminals."
Authorities also reportedly seized Androsenka's passport before he could leave for the US to attend a civl society leader program put on by the State Department.
The Vitebsk raid is similar to three others that have occurred in the capital, Minsk, with detainees interrogated about their sexual lives.
In light of the ongoing crackdown, many are clearing their accounts on networking sites of material related to gay culture, and some are even contemplating emigration, AP says.
"In the 21st century in the middle of Europe we are forced to prove to the government that homosexuality is not an illness and not a crime," activist Nasta Senyuhovich is quoted as saying.
The report notes that President Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus for 18 years and is labelled "Europe's last dictator," views gay people as agents of a decadent West.
Following a 2011 meeting with Germany's foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, who is gay, Lukashenko is on record as saying that "it is better to be a dictator than to be a gay."