Heads of Belarusian media outlet sentenced to 12 years at closed trial

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Two women who ran an independent online media outlet that was critical of the Belarus authorities were each sentenced on Friday to 12 years in prison, the prosecutor’s office said.

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Marina Zolotova, editor-in-chief of the tut.by internet portal, and Lyudmila Chekina, its general director, were arrested in May 2021 with other employees, most of whom were later released.

They were initially charged with tax evasion, and later with inciting hatred and calling for sanctions against Belarus. The state news agency posted video of them sitting in a courtroom cage in handcuffs at their closed trial.

Belarusian exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya on Friday condemned the long jail terms handed to staff of what used to be the authoritarian country’s leading independent news outlet.

“The verdict for Marina Zolotova and Lyudmila Chekina is another attempt by the regime to kill honest journalism in Belarus,” Tikhanovskaya said in a statement after the former editor-in-chief and general director of the news site called Tut.by were each handed 12 years in jail.

Tut.by actively covered mass protests against President Alexander Lukashenko in 2020 and was banned by the authorities as an “extremist organization”. Many of its staff left the country, creating a new outlet called Zerkalo (Mirror).

According to human rights activists, Belarus now has about 1,500 political detainees, arrested for criticizing the authorities or participating in the 2020 protests against the outcome of a presidential election that the opposition said was rigged.

Belarusian human rights activist Ales Bialiatski, co-winner of last year’s Nobel Peace Prize, was sentenced to 10 years in prison this month after being found guilty of financing protests, in a trial condemned by the United States and the European Union as a sham.

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