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On the morning of May 18 the Financial Investigation Department burst into the homes of editors and journalists of the most popular Belarusian portal TUT.BY, as well as AV.BY. The Ministry of Information blocked the website right away.
The Belarusian Association of Journalists considers it a further attack on free speech. For many years, the government has been using economic crime allegations as a pretext for prosecution and repression of human rights defenders, media, and independent trade unions.
This is not the first attempt to put pressure on the largest and most popular news portal in Belarus. In August 2018, several TUT.BY editors were prosecuted under the so-called "BelTA case", and its chief editor Maryna Zolatava was convicted in early 2019 At the end of 2020, TUT.BY was deprived of the media status, while different officials repeatedly threatened to block access to it.
Today's actions against the largest and most popular news outlet in the country just follow the targetted government policy to curb the spread of uncensored information in the country. Following the presidential elections in 2020, dozens of news websites and media were blocked, and a number of publications were forced to stop publishing. As of the morning of May 18, there are 16 journalists and media professionals behind bars, 11 of them face criminal charges.
A week ago, representatives of the media sector signed a joint statement "Stop the witch-hunt!". Persecution of TUT.BY and AV.BY shows that this call has not yet been heard.
The Belarusian Association of Journalists calls on authorities to immediately stop the attack on TUT.BY, AV.BY, RABOTA.BY and end repression against journalists and media in Belarus.
Le 21 mai 2021 MTK lançait l'adresse internet TUTBY2.COM et se rendait compte du blocage de l'accès des emails, ordonné par Lukasancko, afin de rechercher les moyens de financement de BYSOL. LUKASANCKO EST UN DANGEREUX PSYCHOPATHE corrompu qui vole son pays et ses habitants avec le produit des taxes des cigarettes de contrebande.TUTBY2.COM lutte contre Minsk et sa dictature de débiles mentaux, de miliciens pourris et de juges stipendiés, inféodés au nazisme autoritaire d'un ancien du soviétisme absolu. Le 24 mai la BNS informait les lecteurs que le belarus bloquait les communications électroniques. MTK continue à diffuser. Vous nous lirez un de ces prochains jours.
Joint statement by Belarusian human rights organizations
Minsk – May 25, 2021
On May 18, the Department for Financial Investigations searched the editorial office, the local offices, as well as the homes of journalists and editors of the most popular Belarusian Internet portal TUT.BY. The editorial offices of TUT.BY’s sub-divisions, AV.BY and RABOTA.BY, were also raided. Almost simultaneously, on the basis of a report from the Prosecutor General's Office, the Ministry of Information blocked access to the Internet resource tut.by and its scraper sites.
On the same day, the Department for Financial Investigations of the State Control Committee said that it opened a criminal case against officials of TUT.BY MEDIA LLC on the grounds of a crime under Part 2 of Article 243 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus (evasion of taxes and fees of especially large amount).
We, the undersigned organizations, consider these facts to be a continuation of the attack on freedom of speech. The authorities’ references to economic violations, which allegedly led to the outlet’s persecution, have been actively used for many years to justify repressive measures against human rights defenders, the media, and independent trade unions. In recent years, Ales Bialiatski, chairman of the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, Henadz Fiadynich, leader of the independent trade union REP, Ales Lipai, head of the Belapan news agency, and others have been prosecuted on politically motivated charges of tax evasion in Belarus.
This is not the first attempt to put pressure on the largest and most popular Belarusian information portal. In August 2018, several TUT.BY editors were prosecuted in the so-called “BelTA case”, and in early 2019, the editor-in-chief, Maryna Zolatava, was convicted in this case. At the end of 2020, TUT.BY was stripped of its credentials as a media outlet, and officials repeatedly threatened to block its activities.
We believe that these actions against the employees of the largest and most popular information resource in the country are a continuation of the purposeful policy of the authorities to limit the dissemination of uncensored information in the country. After the 2020 presidential election, dozens of socio-political and media sites were blocked in Belarus, and a number of print media were forced to stop publishing.
In the case of TUT.BY, it is known that the following persons remain in detention:
Liudmila Chekina, general director;
Maryna Zolatava, editor-in-chief;
Volha Loika, editor;
Iryna Rybalka, deputy director;
Alena Talkachova, journalist;
Anzhela Asad, chief accountant;
Maryia Novik, deputy chief accountant;
Ala Lapatka, chief engineer;
Aliaksandr Daineka, deputy general director for technical affairs;
Andrei Audzeyeu, manager;
Siarhei Pavalishau, hoster.by director;
Darya Danilava, director of Rocket Data and TAM.BY.
Under house arrest in this case are:
Yuliya Charniauskaya, widow of TUT.BY founder Yury Zisser;
Katsiaryna Tkachenka, TUT.BY lawyer;
Iryna Kastsiuchenka, former lawyer of TUT.BY.
Given these circumstances, we conclude that the real grounds for the criminal prosecution of Liudmila Chekina, Maryna Zolatava, Volha Loika, Iryna Rybalka, Alena Talkachova, Anzhela Asad, Maryia Novik, Ala Lapatka, Aliaksandr Daineka, Andrei Audzeyeu, Siarhei Pavalishau, Darya Danilava, Yuliya Charniauskaya, Katsiaryna Tkachenka and Iryna Kastsiuchenka are political motives aimed at stopping or changing the nature of their public activities for legitimate purposes as part of the TUT.BY portal in connection with the nonviolent exercise of freedom of expression and dissemination of information.
Based on this and guided by paragraphs 2.1, 3.1 a) of the Guidelines on the Definition of Political Prisoners, adopted at the III Belarusian Human Rights Forum, we, representatives of Belarusian human rights organizations, declare Liudmila Chekina, Maryna Zolatava, Volha Loika, Iryna Rybalka, Alena Talkachova, Anzhela Asad, Maryia Novik, Ala Lapatka, Aliaksandr Daineka, Andrei Audzeyeu, Siarhei Pavalishau, Darya Danilava, Yuliya Charniauskaya, Katsiaryna Tkachenka and Iryna Kastsiuchenka to be political prisoners and call to:
immediately release Lyudmila Liudmila Chekina, Maryna Zolatava, Volha Loika, Iryna Rybalka, Alena Talkachova, Anzhela Asad, Maryia Novik, Ala Lapatka, Aliaksandr Daineka, Andrei Audzeyeu, Siarhei Pavalishau, and Darya Danilava from custody, and Yuliya Charniauskaya, Katsiaryna Tkachenka and Iryna Kastsiuchenka from house arrest;
Human Rights Center "Viasna"
Belarusian Association of Journalists
Center for Legal Transformation (Lawtrend)
Belarusian Documentation Center