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 Zolatava’s management, Tut.by became Belarus’s largest online news outlet, significantly expanding its reach when it covered the contested presidential election of August 2020, in which incumbent president Aleksandr Lukashenko claimed victory amid mass protests.
On May 18, 2021, 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 Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), an independent trade group that 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 and took her out the back door, the reports said.
On the same day, officers with the department also raided 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 Tolkacheva, and others at the publication with tax evasion, BAJ reported. The charge carries a penalty of up to seven years in prison, according to Article 243, Part 2, of the country’s criminal code.
The Tut.by website went offline later that day, along with several websites affiliated with outlet, according to news reports. The Ministry of Information said in a statement it had blocked the site for posting prohibited information and 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 in 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,” said Khvoin.
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 in Minsk, informally known as Valadarskaga, according to Viasna, a banned human rights organization that continues to operate in the country unofficially.
In late 2021, Zolatava’s husband Vasily Kishkurno told CPJ by phone that he had no information about his wife’s legal situation beyond the tax evasion charge, as her lawyer has signed a nondisclosure agreement with authorities.
As of late November 2022, Zolatava remained in detention awaiting trial, according to Viasna. Her case will be transferred to the prosecutor’s office to be sent to court shortly, media reported on November 17, 2022.
On October 18, the Belarusian State Security Committee (KGB) added Zolatava to a list of people involved in terrorist activities, according to media reports. The KGB also specified that she was charged with incitement to hatred, which carries a penalty of up to 12 years in prison under Article 130 of the country’s criminal code, and with calling for sanctions aimed at harming national security, which is also punishable for up to 12 years in jail under Article 361 of the code.
Aliaksandra Pushkina, director of communications for Zerkalo.io (Tut.by’s mirror site), told CPJ via messaging app that Zolatava was doing fine and getting more letters. “She constantly works out, keeps herself in shape,” she said.
Zolatava was prosecuted before. In March 2019, a court found her guilty of “official inaction” on allegations that she and her employees had used accounts and passwords that didn’t belong to them to access a state-owned news outlet, according to Tut.by. She was ordered to pay a fine of 7,650 Belarusian rubles (US$3,000).
In September 2022, CPJ called the Ministry of Interior’s press service, but nobody answered the phone. CPJ emailed the Belarusian Investigative Committee but did not receive any replies.