Activists in Belarus have reported a series of raids on gay clubs, following an LGBT rights group’s attempt to register for official recognition as an NGO.

Although Belarus decriminalised homosexuality in 1991, homophobia is still rampant and attitudes towards gay people are comparable to those in Russia, where the state is considering adopting anti-gay laws nationally.

Gay activist Nasta Senyuhovich told the Associated Press: “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.”

LGBT rights group GayBelarus made a stand when they applied to have their organisation officially registered as an NGO earlier this year. Without the registration their organisation cannot operate legally.

In January they learnt that their application had been rejected.

A statement on the GayBelarus website included the rejection letter from the Justice Ministry, which said the application was turned down because “the organization does not have in its charter any clauses on supporting social maturity and comprehensive development of the Belarusian youth.”

Siarhiej Androsienka, the chair of GayBelarus, said that following the application police raided Club 6A, a gay club in Minsk, on January 11. Clubbers were lined up against a wall and videotaped stating their names, addresses, and occupations.

He believed police were using scare tactics in response to GayBelarus’ attempt to make LGBT people more visible in Belarus.

“This was more like a special operation against criminals,” Mr Androsienka said. “Of course, this action was intended to frighten and intimidate those who dared to proclaim their homosexuality publicly in Belarus.”

On January 12 a similar raid took place in Vitebsk, and two weeks later plain clothes police raided Club 6A a second time. On the latter occasion 40 people were detained. The clubbers reported that their treatment by police was “rough”.

Mr Androsienka said that GayBelarus would continue to work for gay rights without registration.

President Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus for 18 years and has been described as the “last dictator in Europe”, said in 2012 that “it’s better to be a dictator than gay”.

In 2010 a small group of 20 marchers defied a ban by holding a Slavic Pride event in Minsk, but were dispersed by police.