BELARUS: Ruthless Crackdown on Press Freedom Continues as Authorities Target Independent Media TUT.BY

International Media Support (IMS) resolutely condemns the Belarusian regime’s assault on the country’s independent media TUT.BY and calls on the international community to take robust action to stop abuses against journalists, media and civil society in Belarus. 

Today the Belarusian regime has launched an unprecedented attack on TUT.BY, an independent media outlet with 20 million unique daily visitors, that has extensively covered the demonstrations and the violent crackdown by the authorities. The agents of the Belarusian Financial Investigation Department (DFR) have searched offices in Minsk as well as the regional offices Brest, Vitsebsk and Hrodna. The Ministry of Information of the Republic of Belarus has blocked website, another move in the attempt to turn Belarus into an information vacuum. Chief editor Marina Zolotova was also one of the targets of the raid

“The unspeakable attack against TUT.BY follows the well-documented pattern of harassment against journalists and media in Belarus; this is yet another flagrant showing of this regime’s unscrupulous will to silence oppositional voices. By shutting down TUT.BY and blocking access to the crucial information they deliver to the citizens, the regime in Belarus is cutting the life-blood of the Belarusian people. There is a clear goal to turn the country into an information vacuum.” says Gulnara Akhundova, IMS Head of Department for Global Response.

TUT.BY has been attacked by the government since the widely disputed presidential election in August 2020. The government stripped Tut.By of its official media status in autumn 2020 as authorities cracked down on one of the largest street protests to erupt against longtime President Alexander Lukashenko. On 19 November 2020, the Prosecutor General’s office opened a criminal case against a TUT.BY journalist, Katsiaryna Barysevich, and Artsiom Sorokin, a doctor, who spoke up about Raman Bandarenka, a protest activist beaten to death in November 2020 in Minsk, allegedly by plainclothes police officers. Katsiaryna Barysevich was sentenced to 6 months in prison. reporter Lyubov Kasperovich was 14 May sentenced to 15 days for covering a trial of opposition supporters. 

The DFR launched a criminal case against TUT.BYon the grounds of a crime under Part 2 of Article 243 of the Criminal Code (evasion of taxes and fees on an especially large scale). Journalist Elena Tolkacheva has been taken to DFR for interrogation, says on their Twitter page. The official email has been blocked, also according to TUT.BY’s Twitter page

TUT.BY is only one of many independent media and human rights organisations being targets of the state orchestrated attacks. In February this year, at least 25 human rights defenders were targeted in a brazen attack on freedom of expression. IMS called for the immediate release of the journalists and human rights defenders detained in Minsk, Mogilev, Vitebsk, Homel, Mozyr, Brest and Rechyts in Belarus.

IMS condemns in the strongest possible terms the Belarusian regime actions against TUT.BY and independent media and civil society in Belarus. IMS calls on the international community to react swiftly and employ all available international accountability mechanisms to put an end to the frantic, mounting crackdown against media and critical voices in Belarus. 16 journalists are behind bars at the moment in Belarus, according to the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ).