The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has called on the Belarusian authorities to “end their harassment” of the editor in chief of Belarus's largest independent news site.
Maryna Zolatava appeared in court in Minsk on February 12 on charges that her publication, the website Tut.by, illegally obtained information from a state-run news agency.
Zolatava, who was greeted with applause and supportive chants from journalists and others as she entered the courtroom for the preliminary hearing, told the court she is innocent.
The case has raised concerns by media watchdogs and human rights organizations, which have warned about persistent and growing press restrictions under longtime President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
Belarusian authorities should “immediately drop all charges" against Zolatava and "stop harassing the country's independent media," said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Gulnoza Said.
"The raid on Tut.by and criminal charges brought against Zolatava show Belarus is looking for excuses to intimidate and persecute independent and critical media," she said in a statement.
The charges against Zolatava relate to a raid on Tut.by's Minsk offices in August, along with that of two other outlets, BelaPan and Belarusskaya Nauka. Several reporters and employees, including Zolatava, were detained.
The Belarusian Investigative Committee claimed that employees of the three news outlets used accounts and passwords other than their own to access the paid subscriber section of BelTA, the state-run news agency.
Fifteen people faced charges, but all except for Zolatava had their charges dropped after paying administrative fines and damages.
Zolatava, meanwhile, was hit with new charges of "official inaction," a charge comparable to negligence.
The case raises “concerns of growing press restrictions” in Belarus including through “amendments to media laws that may lead to further censorship,” according to the CPJ.