EU foreign ministers extended asset freezes to firms linked to President Lukashenko.
According to Telegraf, a Belarus website, the firms are arms maker Beltechexport, national telecommunications provider Beltelecom, and games companies Sport-Pari and Superloto.
All of them have strong links with Vladimir Peftiev, Lukashenko's personal bagman, who, according to EU diplomats, uses the businesses for "money laundering".
An arms embargo on Belarus and on "materials that might be used for internal repression" was among the measures imposed. Proceeds from weapons sales are believed to contribute to a special fund under the control of Lukashenko.
According to international media, the new sanctions were adopted amid opposition from Latvia and Italy, both countries that are keen to preserve business interests in Belarus.
The latest sanctions complement restrictive measures imposed last January and condemnations of political reprisals voiced last month (see 'Background').
EU ministers also condemned the detention, trial and sentencing on political grounds of representatives of civil society, the independent media and the political opposition.
Among those condemned to prison sentences by the regime are former presidential candidates Andrei Sannikov, Vladimir Nyaklyayew, Vital Rymashewski, Nikolay Statkevich and Dmitry Uss, all victims of court repressions in what has been dubbed by the authorities the 'Case of December 19', after the date of the presidential election.
The EU reiterated its calls for the immediate release and rehabilitation of all political prisoners. At least 59 people are been indicted and 41 have been sent by the authorities to prison or colonies, or in other cases restrained in open institutions or on probation.
The ministers also deplored the continuing deterioration of media freedom in Belarus, citing lawsuits filed by the Ministry of Information to shut down two of the country's largest independent newspapers, Nasha Niva and Narodnaya Volya, the trial of journalist Andrzej Poczobut, Belarus correspondent for Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza and the cancelled licence of radiostation Autoradio.
Journalists blamed for crisis
In fact, Lukashenko recently blamed journalists for playing a major role in fomenting the country's economic crisis, RFE/RL reported. The country is currently experiencing major turmoil that has led to currency devaluation of 36% and soaring inflation.
Lukashenko said journalists "played the biggest role in creating panic" and accused outside forces of using "trash called the Internet" to disseminate misinformation.
Recently, Belarus asked the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a rescue loan of billions of dollars to help it emerge from the crisis.
In their statement, EU ministers made no reference to the IMF, but stressed that the extension of the European Investment Bank's operations to Belarus should only proceed if and when the EU is able to give a sufficiently positive assessment of the human rights and rule of law situation.
Reportedly, Lukashenko is turning now to China for help in stabilising the country's foreign exchange market.