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Belarus gives media outlet Tut.by staff long jail terms

March 17, 2023

The editor-in-chief Marina Zolotova and the general director Lyudmila Chekina received 12 years. Both were detained and saw their homes raided in 2021 along with 13 colleagues.

Marina Zolatava, former editor-in-chief of Art and Editorial Department at Tut.by media outlet, and Lydumila Chekina, former general director of Tut.by, in court Friday
Marina Zolatava, former editor-in-chief of Art and Editorial Department at Tut.by media outlet, and Lydumila Chekina, former general director of Tut.by, in a Minsk court ahead of their sentences Image: Natalya Talanova/TASS/dpa/picture alliance

Senior staff of the Tut.by independent online news site in Belarus received lengthy sentences in a closed-door court in Minsk Friday.

Editor-in-chief Marina Zolotova, 45, and the general director Lyudmila Chekina, 54, were jailed for 12 years. They faced charges that ranged from "incitement to hatred" to tax evasion, a popular means of targeting opposition figures.

Both journalists were detained in 2021 and saw their homes raided along with 13 of their colleagues.

The Belarusian Association of Journalists said the verdict was "cruel revenge for the truth." Reporters Without Borders called the sentence "absurd."

Two others who are considered government critics were given 10 year sentences, including political analyst and website editor Valeria Kostyugova.

What is behind the verdict?

In August 2020, following a contested presidential election, Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko claimed victory and launched a brutal crackdown against his democratic opponents who contested his nearly 30-year reign.

Thousands of people were imprisoned for participating in mass protests against Lukashenko's regime, with hundreds alleging torture for which there is evidence in Belarusian jails and prison camps for political opposition.

My Belarus is used by Putin to attack Ukraine: Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya

All opposition figures have either been incarcerated or live in exile, such as Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya who stood in for her husband in the contested presidential election in 2020 and later claimed victory.

Tsikhanouskaya condemned the verdict against Tut.by leadership, calling it "another attempt by the regime to kill honest journalism in Belarus."

Belarus has been taken 'hostage' by Russia

The crackdown quickly expanded to civil society and media and by mid-2022 Tut.by was labeled an "extremist organization" and shut by the Belarusian state authorities.

Earlier this month, the international community expressed concern when Nobel Peace Prize winner Ales Bialiatski received a 10-year sentence.

What is the state of the publication now?

Some journalists with Tut.by fled amidst the crackdown to Ukraine and reestablished themselves under the publication title, "Zerkalo," or "mirror" if translated from Russsian.

Ahead of the draconian jail terms behind handed down, Zerkalo journalists wrote, "Mila, Marina, we are proud of you. Your integrity and resilience are an example to us all."

They added, "We will continue your work: telling Belarussian people the real news, no matter what."

ar/msh (AFP, Reuters)