Belarusian Journalists Sentenced to Twelve Years in Prison for Inciting Discord
Two journalists from Tut.by, the largest independent Belarusian portal, have been sentenced to twelve years in prison for distributing information that called for the seizure of state power, as well as for organizing actions that incited hatred and social discord. The Justice dismantled Tut.by for its involvement in the dissemination of news about the repression of mass protests against President Alexandr Lukashenko after the fraudulent presidential election of August 2020. The editor-in-chief, Marina Zolatova, and the director-general, Liudmila Chekina, were found guilty of distributing materials with public calls for the seizure of state power, promoting actions to incite hatred and social discord, and calling through the media for foreign countries and international organizations to act against national security.
The trial was closed-door and lasted for two months, after which Judge Valyantsina Ziankevich sentenced the journalists. The Zerkalo website reported that Zolotova and Chekina were also convicted of tax evasion. The two journalists are the only defendants in the case who remain in prison and are recognized as political prisoners. The Belarusian KGB included them in the list of “persons involved in terrorist activities”.
The dismantling of Tut.by and the arrest of its employees was part of President Lukashenko’s crackdown on dissent following the fraudulent election. Tut.by was an essential source of news about the protests, and its dismantling silenced independent media. The sentencing of Zolotova and Chekina is the latest example of Lukashenko’s suppression of freedom of expression and the press in Belarus. This ruling is a severe blow to press freedom in the country and must be condemned by the international community.