Belarusian authorities detained Volha Loika, an editor with independent news site Tut.by, along with several other Tut.by employees and journalists in May 2021 as part of a crackdown on the outlet that included raids on its offices.
Loika edited the politics and economy section of Tut.by, which she joined more than 10 years ago after working for Russian state news agencies Prime-TASS and Interfax, according to the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), an independent advocacy and trade group which authorities banned in 2021 but which continues to operate unofficially in the country.
On May 18, Financial Investigations Department officers detained Loika along with several other Tut.by journalists and staff members during the raid on the outlet’s offices in Minsk, according to BAJ. Loika “was taken right from her desk in the corner of the office,” her Tut.by colleague Kseniya Yelyashevich told BAJ.
On the same day, officers with the department also raided Tut.by’s 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 Loika, along with Tut.by’s chief editor Maryna Zolatava and others at the publication with tax evasion, BAJ reported. If convicted, Loika could face up to seven years in prison, according to the country’s criminal code.
The outlet’s website went offline later on May 18, along with 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 raid that Loika’s arrest and other measures against Tut.by were retaliation for the outlet’s reporting on protests against the contested reelection of Belarusian president Aleksandr Lukashenko 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.
Loika is being held in the Minsk pre-trial Detention Center No. 1, also known as Valadarskaga, according to Viasna, a banned human rights organization that continues to operate in the country unofficially.
Loika is not known to have health issues in prison, according to Loika’s Tut.by colleague 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.