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Belarus Charges Leaders Of Independent Press Club With Tax Crimes As Crackdown Continues

Yulia Slutskaya
Yulia Slutskaya

The founder of an independent Belarusian press group and several associates taken into custody last week have been charged with tax evasion and related crimes in a case that comes against the backdrop of a continuing state crackdown on dissent.

The daughter of Press Club founder Yulia Slutskaya said via Facebook that her mother had been charged with "large-scale tax evasion."

A lawyer for the group confirmed the charges against Slutskaya and said charges alleged that at least four staff members were being charged as co-conspirators.

Slutskaya will remain in pretrial custody until at least February 22, the lawyer, Anton Hashinski, said.

It was unclear whether the other four -- Syarhey Alsheuski, Pyatro Slutski, Ala Sharko, and Denys Sokolouski -- had their custody similarly extended.

AFP reported that another Press Club employee, Russian national Sergei Yakupov, had been deported on December 31.

Slutskaya was detained after she arrived in Minsk from abroad on December 22, while the others were detained hours later after their homes and offices were searched.

Belarus's Committee for State Control said it had launched preliminary investigations into "facts of violation of the taxation laws of the Republic of Belarus by the staff members of the Press Club Journalistic Workshop cultural-educational organization linked among other things to financial support from abroad."

The detentions came days after the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) listed Belarus as a country where authorities have significantly increased their arrests of journalists in recent months.

The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) on December 23 demanded the release of veteran journalist Slutskaya and her colleagues.

"This repression must end immediately. We demand the release of Yulia and all her colleagues," said EFJ President Mogens Blicher Bjerregard. "We call on the European Union, the Council of Europe, and the OSCE to respond decisively to this new wave of repression."

Founded in 2011, the Belarusian Press Club calls itself "a platform for professional development of independent media and journalists."

Mass protests continue across the country to demand the exit of longtime leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka after election officials in Minsk said he won a sixth presidential term in a landslide on August 9.

Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets for months, declaring that opposition candidate Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya was the real winner.

Lukashenka has responded with mass arrests of protesters, jailings and expulsions of opposition leaders, and the withdrawal of accreditations and other strictures on local and international journalists.

Since August, at least 373 journalists have been arrested in Belarus.

In October, the Foreign Ministry of Belarus revoked the media accreditations from several foreign media organizations in a move widely criticized as an attempt to stifle reporting about ongoing anti-government demonstrations.

With reporting by AFP and
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