Nineteen Belarusian journalists have had their accreditation to work for the BBC and other foreign media outlets removed by the authorities on the same day that two Associated Press reporters were deported from the country.
The clampdown on press freedom comes almost three weeks after Alexander Lukashenko was re-elected in a controversial presidential election, leading to mass protests from those who contest the results.
The Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) told CNN that 19 Belarusian journalists were affected by the decision to remove press licenses on Saturday.
The BBC confirmed in a statement to CNN that two journalists working for its Russian service in Minsk have had their accreditation taken away with immediate effect.
Charlotte Morgan, the BBC’s Head of Communications, told CNN: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this stifling of independent journalism.
“We call upon the Belarusian authorities to revoke this decision and allow our journalists to continue doing their jobs,” Morgan added.
The statement also said that the British broadcaster believes it is “vital” that Belarusians can access “impartial, independent information” about events that are taking place in their country.
Belarusian staff working for The Associated Press (AP) were also targeted by the measures.
“The Associated Press decries in the strongest terms this blatant attack on press freedom in Belarus. AP calls on the Belarusian government to reinstate the credentials of independent journalists and allow them to continue reporting the facts of what is happening in Belarus to the world,” AP said in a statement.
The news agency also said two of its Moscow-based journalist who had been covering the recent protests in Belarus were deported to Russia on Saturday.
In another move against press freedom, the Belarusian authorities detained almost 50 journalists earlier this week, according to the BAJ.
Responding to the arrests, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Twitter: “I condemn the mass detention of over 50 journalists last night in Belarus, including from @BBC, local & international media.”
Raab described the move as a “blatant attempt” to interfere with the press and called on Belarus to stop its targeting of journalists.
Of the journalists that were detained, all except four, who refused to hand over their phones, were later released.
On Friday, Josep Borrell, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, reiterated that the bloc “does not recognize the result of the election” and criticized the way the government’s crackdown on pro-democracy supporters.
“We once again express our full support to Belarus’ sovereignty and independence and condemn the violent repression of the Belarusian people,” Borrell said.
He also confirmed that the EU will sanction several officials in Belarus for their alleged role in the “fraudulent” presidential election and in the subsequent clampdown against protesters.
“This designation shall include individuals at the high political level,” Borrell said.
CNN’s James Frater contributed to this report.