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Editor Of Belarusian News Site Fined For 'Illegally Obtaining Data'

Updated

Maryna Zołatava

MINSK -- The editor of the largest independent news site in Belarus was sentenced to pay a hefty fine in a high-profile case that the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called "harassment of free media."

A court in the capital, Minsk, concluded on March 4 that Maryna Zolatava's Tut.by website illegally obtained information from the state-run BelTA news agency and ordered her to pay 7,650 rubles ($3,600) and cover the trial expenses of 6,000 rubles ($2,800).

Zolatava pleaded not guilty.

The case against her has raised concerns by right advocates, who have warned about growing press restrictions under President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's government.

In August, police officers searched Tut.by's Minsk offices, along with that of another media outlet, BelaPan. Several reporters and employees, including Zolatava, were detained. A third outlet, Belarusskaya Nauka (Belarusian Science), was also targeted.

In all, 15 people faced charges. However, all except for Zolatava had charges dropped after paying administrative fines and damages.

Zolatava, meanwhile, was hit with new charges of "official inaction," a charge comparable to negligence.

Johann Bihr, head of Reporters Without Borders' Eastern Europe and Central Asia office, condemned what he called "the latest act of intimidation against the last independent media outlets in Belarus" and warned of an "escalating crackdown."

Harlem Desir, the OSCE representative on freedom of the media, tweeted that Zolatava's conviction and fining, along with "disproportionate measures of law enforcement" against BelaPan and Tut.by in 2018, "may exert chilling effect on independent media in Belarus."

Independent Belarusian media have faced severe restrictions for years under Lukashenka's authoritarian government.

Other Belarusian journalists and bloggers have been harassed and detained, according to the CPJ.

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