Belarusian authorities detained Elena Tolkacheva, a business reporter with independent news website Tut.by, along with several other Tut.by employees and journalists in May 2021 as part of a crackdown that included raids on the outlet’s offices.
Tolkacheva covered the 2020 protests against the contested reelection of President Aleksandr Lukashenko for Tut.by, according to the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), a banned local advocacy and trade group that continues to monitor press freedom violations from inside the country. A Tut.by journalist since 2014, Tolkacheva covered real estate and construction before switching beats to report on business and economy for the news site’s Money and Power section, according to BAJ.
On May 18, Financial Investigations Department officers came to Tolkacheva’s apartment, arrested her, and searched the apartment, according to BAJ deputy head Barys Haretski, who spoke to CPJ via phone.
On the same day, officers with the department also raided Tut.by’s headquarters in Minsk, the capital, and its regional offices in the western cities of Brest and Hrodna, according to BAJ and news reports. The State Control Committee issued a statement that day confirming the launch of a criminal case against Tut.by “on the grounds of grand tax evasion.”
Authorities charged Tolkacheva, along with Tut.by’s chief editor Maryna Zolatava and others at the publication, with tax evasion, BAJ reported. If convicted, Tolkacheva could face up to seven years in prison, according to the country’s criminal code.
The outlet’s website went offline later that day, as well as several websites affiliated with Tut.by, according to reports. The Ministry of Information said in a statement it blocked the site for posting prohibited information and for collaborating with an unregistered human rights group.
Volha Khvoin, the head of analysis and information services at BAJ, told CPJ by phone after the raids that Tolkacheva’s arrest and other measures against Tut.by were retaliation for the outlet’s reporting on protests against Lukashenko’s contested reelection in August 2020.
It is “clear that the authorities want to kill Tut.by by all means, as it is the most popular media resource in the country, which intensively covers the protests and violations of human rights in Belarus,” she said.
On May 31, a Minsk city court dismissed an appeal for the release of Tolkacheva, according to BAJ.
Tolkacheva is held in the pre-trial Detention Center No. 1 known as Valadarskaga in Minsk, according to Viasna, a banned human rights group that continues to operate in the country unofficially.
Tolkacheva is not known to have any health issues in prison, according to one of Tolkacheva’s Tut.by colleagues, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app, on the condition of anonymity due to security concerns.
In November 2021, CPJ called the Ministry of Interior’s press service but the phone was not answered. CPJ also emailed a request for comment to the Belarusian National Press Center, which covers the activities of the president, the national assembly, the council of ministers, the Belarus president’s administration, and other government bodies, but did not receive any response.