On Friday, the court in Minsk sentenced the responsible editor of the largest Belarusian independent news portal tut.by, Marina Zolotova, and the general director, Lyudmila Chekina, to 12 years in prison for, among other things, tax evasion.
The portal was forced to close after mass demonstrations against the president Alexander Lukashenko in 2020.
The authorities accused the editor and director of, among other things, tax evasion, which critics say is often used as an excuse to silence opponents, and “incitement to hatred”, the Guardian reports.
The organization Reporters Without Borders expressed outrage at the verdict and called for the release of the convicted. As they point out, Lukashenko is taking revenge on those who inform the public in this way.
The Belarusian Association of Journalists described the verdict as “cruel revenge for the truth”.
The verdict was also condemned by a Belarusian opposition politician Svetlana Tihanovska, who is in exile and, according to Lukashenko’s critics, won the last presidential election.
In 2022, the authorities marked the portal tut.by as “extremist organization” and closed it. Both Zolotova and Čekina were detained together with around 10 colleagues in May 2021. The police also raided their homes.
Part of the portal’s employees fled the country and started operating abroad under the name Zerkalo or Ogledalo.
Two more critics were convicted
Two other critics of the government, a political analyst and an editor, were also sentenced in Belarus on Friday Valerija Kostyugova and Tatjana Kuzina, both to ten years in prison. Both were accused of inciting hatred, undermining national security and supporting actions to overthrow the government.
This month, however, the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize was already sentenced to 10 years in prison Aleš Bjaljacki.
The latest convictions come as UN human rights experts accuse Belarus of systematic abuses, repression of protesters and dissidents, which could amount to crimes against humanity.
Minsk marked the report as “a lobbying tool for the anti-Belarusian agenda of Western countries in the UN and the Human Rights Council”.
Several thousand people were imprisoned during protests against Lukashenko’s rule. Hundreds of people have claimed to have been abused in detention, and almost all opposition politicians are either in exile or imprisoned.