Belarus prosecutor demands hefty fine for news chief

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Belarusian prosecutors on Monday demanded the editor of the country’s biggest independent news site pay a hefty fine in a criminal case, which may allow her to avoid prison time.

Marina Zolotova, the editor-in-chief of tut.by, is on trial over alleged “unauthorized access” to information from a state news agency.

Rights groups have condemned the case as part of a crackdown on the media under President Alexander Lukashenko.

If convicted, she faces up to five years in jail.

But on Monday, prosecutor Yulia Kharcheikina demanded the 41-year-old journalist pay a fine of 25,500 Belarusian rubles ($11,900, 10,500 euros).

Judges almost always side with the prosecution in the ex-Soviet country.

Zolotova was initially detained in August along with nearly 20 other journalists over alleged “unauthorized access” to state-run BelTA news service.

They were all released after being ordered to pay fines and damages to the news agency.

But Zolotova was subsequently charged with “official inaction,” or negligence, for failure to control her subordinates when they accessed BelTA by using account passwords for the agency.

Zolotova has been accused of not concluding an official agreement with the news agency but she rubbished the charges.

“It’s not possible to force or make someone sign an agreement,” Zolotova said in court, claiming the accusations were “illogical”.

“Apart from it, according to my job descriptions, I do not have to sign any agreements,” she added.

The charges were brought against Zolotova despite the fact that BelTA makes its stories freely accessible soon after subscribers see them.

Tut.by said it was the first time in the history of modern Belarus that the chief editor of a media outlet was put on trial for her “professional work”.

Ex-Soviet Belarus, ruled by the authoritarian Lukashenko since 1994, was ranked 155th out of 180 in last year’s Reporters Without Borders world press freedom index.