Belarusian authorities detained Maryna Zolatava, the chief editor of 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.
Zolatava joined Tut.by in 2004 and soon became chief editor, according to a colleague who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing security concerns. Under her management, Tut.by became Belarus’s largest online news outlet, significantly expanding its reach when it covered the contested presidential election of August 9, 2020, in which incumbent president Aleksandr Lukashenko claimed victory amid mass protests.
On May 18, officers of the Belarus Financial Investigation Department raided Zolatava’s apartment in Minsk, the capital, and seized reporting equipment and other belongings, according to news reports and the independent trade group Belarusian Association of Journalists, which was banned in 2021 but continues to track journalist detentions from inside Belarus. BAJ also reported that the door to the floor where Zolatava’s apartment is located was broken. The officers arrested her, taking her out the back door, the reports said.
On the same day, officers with the department also raided the Tut.by’s headquarters in Minsk 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 for alleged tax evasion.
Authorities charged Zolatava, Tut.by reporter Elena Tolkkacheva and others at the publication with tax evasion, BAJ reported. If convicted, Zolatava could face up to seven years in prison, according to the country’s criminal code.
The outlet’s website went offline later that day, along with several websites affiliated with Tut.by, according to news reports. The Ministry of Information said in a statement it had 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 raid that Zolatava’s arrest and other measures against Tut.by were retaliation for the outlet’s reporting on protests against Lukashenko’s contested reelection.
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 Zolatava, according to BAJ.
Zolatava is being held in the Detention Center No. 1 known as Valadarskaga in Minsk, according to Viasna, a banned human rights organization that continues to operate in the country unofficially.
Zolatava’s husband Vasily Kishkurno told CPJ via phone that he has no information about his wife’s legal situation beyond the tax evasion charge as her lawyer has signed a nondisclosure agreement with authorities. He said his wife does not have health problems.
Zolatava was prosecuted before. In March 2019, a court found her guilty of “official inaction” on allegations that she and her employees used accounts and passwords that didn’t belong to them to access a state-owned news outlet, according to Tut.by; she was ordered her to pay a fine of 7,650 Belarusian rubles (about US$3,000).
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.