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Belarus: Blocking leading online media outlet is a brazen attack on freedom of expression

Belarus 20.05

Reacting to the news that TUT.by, one of Belarus’ leading independent online media outlets, was blocked today by the country’s Ministry of Information, Amnesty International’s Senior Campaigner on Belarus, Aisha Jung, said:

“This is a cowardly step taken by a government which fears truth and resorts to brutal measures to suppress human rights. It must end its suffocating crackdown on independent voices and immediately reverse the blocking of TUT.by.”

“The blocking of the TUT.by website is a full-scale assault on the right to freedom of expression and media freedom in Belarus, and leaves a gaping wound in the country’s access to independent sources of information. The scope of this attack cannot be underestimated since about half of Belarusian internet users refer to TUT.by for news, forums and other services.

”The Belarusian authorities, in their reckless determination to curtail peaceful dissent and gag all government critics, have brazenly blocked the country’s most crucial internet resource, in violation of their obligations under international human rights law.”

Background

On 18 May 2021, the Ministry of Information blocked access to TUT.by quoting “numerous facts of violations of the Law on Mass Media” and, specifically, the publication of materials coming from BYSOL foundation, an unregistered fundraising initiative in support of victims of political repression in Belarus. Belarusian legislation prohibits the media from disseminating materials on behalf of unregistered organizations.

Simultaneously, officers of the Department of Financial Investigations conducted searches and interrogations in the offices and homes of TUT.by editors including the editor-in-chief Maryna Zolatava. The authorities announced the launch of criminal investigation under Article 243 (2) of the Criminal Code of Belarus (“tax evasion on a large scale”).

On 1 October 2020, TUT.by’s media credentials were revoked following its coverage of peaceful protests which had erupted across the country after the widely-disputed presidential election in August. In March 2021, TUT.by reporter, Katsyaryna Barysevich, was sentenced to six months in prison under trumped-up charges for uncovering the falsification of official reports into the killing of peaceful protester Raman Bandarenka in November 2020.

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