Minsk: Popular news portal editor-in-chief still defendant in notorious case

Marina Zolatava’s petition to dismiss criminal proceedings in the so-called BelTA case has been denied on November, 30, the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) reports.

On Thursday, it became known that the criminal prosecution of BelaPAN Chief Editor Iryna Leushyna was stopped. A few days ago, the Investigation Committee granted the petitions of journalists Ulyana Babayed and Tatsyana Karavenkava to replace criminal charges with administrative liability. Last week, the Investigative Committee granted the same requests from the Deutsche Welle correspondent Paulyuk Bykowski and the editor of the Realt.by portal Uladzislau Kuletski. Now the journalists are in the status of witnesses; most of them are facing heavy fines.

TUT.by editor-in-chief Maryna Zolatava remains the only accused person in the case.

Zolatava was charged under Part 2 of Article 425 of the Criminal Code (‘inaction of an official’). The maximum penalty for this article is 5 years in prison. Earlier, she was suspected of ‘unauthorized access to computer information’ (part 2 of article 349 of the Criminal Code), but then the prosecution under this article was stopped ‘in connection with a crime that had not been committed’.

It should be recalled that an unprecedented wave of media workers’ arrests started in Belarus on August 7.

After Iryna Akulovich, Director of the state-run news agency BelTA, had reported ‘illegal access to their premium content’, the Belarusian Investigative Committee initiated a criminal case. According to the authorities’ version, some employees of the above-mentioned media outlets have used another person’s password and got information owned by the Lukashenka mouthpiece over the past two years.

Tut.by journalists Halina Ulasik, Maryna Zolatava, Hanna Kaltyhina, Ulyana Babayed, Dzmitry Bobryk, Hanna Yermachonak, BelaPAN editors Tatsyana Karavyankova, Iryna Leushyna and Andrey Serada, Deutsche Welle correspondent Paulyuk Bykouski and the Belarusians and Market journalist Alyaksei Zhukau were detained. As part of the case, four journalists of the property portal realt.by were interrogated. A few days later, all the journalists were released from custody, but they are still under gag order. All the suspects in the BelTA case are banned from leaving the country.

As reported earlier, Dzmitry Bobryk wrote that after a three-hour interrogation in the Investigative Committee on August 7, he signed a cooperation agreement. According to him, there were direct threats to him and his relatives. However, after law enforcers realized they would get no information. their pressure on him intensified, Bobryk claimed.

The Belarusian Association of Journalists called the situation a ‘flagrant violation of freedom of expression and media freedom’. According to the BAJ, the actions of law enforcement agencies were ‘excessive’.