Maryna Zolatava

Beats Covered:
Local or Foreign:

Belarusian journalist Maryna Zolatava, chief editor of independent news website, has been serving a 12-year sentence since being convicted in March 2023 on charges of incitement to hatred and distributing materials calling for actions aimed at harming national security. Authorities detained Zolatava along with several other employees and journalists in May 2021, as part of a crackdown that included raids on the outlet’s offices. 

Zolatava joined in 2004 and soon became chief editor, according to a colleague who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing safety concerns. Under Zolatava’s management, became Belarus’ 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 advocacy and trade group operating from exile. 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’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 for alleged tax evasion. 

Authorities charged Zolatava, reporter Elena Tolkacheva, and others at the publication with tax evasion, BAJ reported. That charge was later dropped.

The 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 that 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 were retaliation for the outlet’s reporting on protests against Lukashenko’s contested reelection. It is “clear that the authorities want to kill 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, 2021, a Minsk city court dismissed an appeal for the release of Zolatava, according to BAJ.  

On October 18, 2022, the Belarusian State Security Committee (KGB) added Zolatava to a list of people allegedly 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 361of the code. 

Zolatava’s trial started on January 9, 2023, and was held behind closed doors, according to media reports.

On March 17, a court in Minsk convicted Zolatava of both charges and sentenced her to 12 years in prison, according to media reports and BAJ. At the same trial, director Liudmila Chekina was also sentenced to 12 years in prison for tax evasion, organizing actions aimed at inciting hatred, and organizing the distribution of materials calling for actions aimed at harming national security, those reports said.

On July 31, the Belarusian Supreme Court upheld Zolatava’s sentence, BAJ reported.

On August 18, the Belarusian Ministry of Interior added Zolatava to its list of people allegedly involved in extremist activity, according to Viasna, a banned human rights group. 

Zolatava is held in Prison No. 4 in the southeastern city of Homel Minsk, according to Viasna.

Aliaksandra Pushkina, director of communications for (’s mirror site), told CPJ via messaging app in October 2023 that the journalist worked as a seamstress in prison, and that she was in a good psychological and physical state.

Zolatava had been 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 She was ordered to pay a fine of 7,650 Belarusian rubles (US$3,000). 

In October 2023, CPJ called the Belarusian Ministry of Interior for comment, but nobody answered the phone. CPJ emailed the Belarusian Investigative Committee but did not receive any replies.