On Friday, the Belarusian portal TUT.BY has reported the Interior Ministry’s having claims against the company. The media outlet has been publishing its materials only on social media platforms after the Belarusian security services raided its offices and detained 15 employees in May.
The ministry’s complaints were filed to Tsentralny district court of Minsk, the Information Ministry, TUTBY Media company. Referring to the evaluation conducted by the Republican Expert Commission, the officials ask to recognise information products on tut.by website and its social media profiles (Telegram, Facebook, Instagram, VK) as ‘extremist’ and bar access to them.
The hearing of the case is to take place on June 24 in Tsentralny district court of Minsk.
According to the above mentioned commission, TUT.BY’s activity harms the national interests and national security of Belarus, as it includes ‘information support of protests, creation of opportunities to make destructive appeals’, bear signs of ‘mockery and insults, negative assessment of the work of Alyaksandr Lukashenka’, implements ‘the strategy and tactics of discrediting’. The 77-page report contains specific examples, but the media company’s representatives were not allowed to copy the paper.
“This is nothing but an attempt to erase the country’s story which has been written by TUT.BY journalists for 20 years. It is an attempt to outlaw the discussion and distribution of everything that has been said and written by the portal,” TUT.BY team comments on the request by the Interior Ministry.
If all their materials are declared ‘extremist’, any citizen might face persecution for sharing links to them, even if an ‘extremist material’ was an interview with Alyaksandr Lukashenka, the journalists stressed.
On May 18, Belarusian security officers descended upon TUT.BY offices across the country, as well as to editors’ places. According to the official information, a criminal case was launched against TUTBY Media company officials under Part 2 of Article 243 of the Criminal Code (‘large-scale tax evasion’). A dozen persons were taken into custody as part of the criminal case opened against TUTBY Media company, including TUT.BY editor-in-chief Maryna Zolatava.
On the same day, Yuliya Charnyauskaya, the widow of TUT.BY founder Yury Zisser and a well-known Belarusian cultural studies scholar, was taken to the reception room of Minsk clinical hospital Nr 1; a police officer was keeping a close watch on her even there. Then the woman, who went through through a hypertensive crisis, was discharged; the police escorted her. For two days, her whereabouts was unknown; on May 20, she was reported to have been interrogated by the Department of Financial Investigations and then placed under house arrest. In late May, a charge was brought against Yuliya Charnyauskaya. However, it is unknown under which article she is accused; as Yuliya’s defence lawyer had to sign a non-disclosure agreement, she is not allowed to inform even the closest relatives of the aspects of the case.