This week Belarusian authorities took yet another step in their relentless campaign to stifle independent media. This time their target is TUT.BY, one of the country’s largest news outlets.
On the morning of May 18, police searched TUT.BY’s offices in Minsk and five other cities. Law enforcement also raided the homes of at least five staff, seizing electronics, documents, cash, and bankcards.
Authorities also raided the offices of several other online platforms affiliated with TUT.BY and detained Sergei Povalishev, director of Hoster.by, TUT.BY’s parent company hosting department, and Darya Danilova, who runs one of TUT.BY’s projects.
The Department of Financial Investigations stated that the raids and arrests were carried out in connection with a criminal investigation into alleged “grand tax evasion” by TUT.BY’s management team.
Authorities also blocked access to at least two TUT.BY websites. According to the Ministry of Information, the outlet published materials of the unregistered Belarus Solidarity Foundation (BYSOL). The foundation provides financial support to those who “suffered from [abuses by] the regime” in Belarus.
In recent years, TUT.BY has been facing increasing pressure from the government over its independent reporting. It has published articles on sensitive social and political issues, including police abuse against peaceful protesters. In December, a court in Minsk stripped the outlet of its media license for supposedly spreading “false information.”
Today, TUT.BY journalist Katsiaryna Barysevich was finally released from prison, having served a six–month sentence in retaliation for her article about the death of Raman Bandarenka, a protest activist allegedly beaten to death by plainclothes police officers. Barysevich’s colleagues planned to meet her outside the prison gate with bouquets of flowers; the raids and arrests, however, largely ruined their festive plans.
Belarusian authorities should drop the bogus criminal case against TUT.BY and immediately and unconditionally free those behind bars.