MINSK — Belarusian authorities have launched a new criminal probe against independent news website Tut.by, amid a continuing crackdown on independent media and freedom of speech.
An unspecified number of Tut.by staff members are suspected of jointly inciting social hatred or discord, the Investigative Committee of Belarus said on October 7.
It did not provide further details.
If charged and convicted, the suspects would face up to 12 years in prison.
Tut.by, once the leading independent news outlet in Belarus, was blocked by the authorities in May, and 15 of its editors and journalists were arrested on charges of tax evasion.
Eleven of them remain either in custody or under house arrest.
After the website was blocked, some of its journalists created a new information site called Zerkalo.io.
Zerkalo.io suggested that the authorities’ latest move against Tut.by journalists could be in retaliation for the creation of the new website.
Tut.by actively covered mass protests that rocked Belarus last year following the disputed results of an August presidential election that handed authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who has ruled the country since 1994, a sixth consecutive term.
The demonstrations demanding Lukashenka’s resignation were met with the heavy-handed — and sometimes violent — detention of tens of thousands of people.
Several demonstrators have been killed and there have been what human rights groups call credible reports of torture in the crackdown.
Much of the opposition leadership has been jailed or forced into exile.
The opposition and the West have refused to recognize Lukashenka as the country’s legitimate leader, saying the vote was rigged, and called for a new, independently monitored vote.
The authorities’ crackdown on independent journalists, the opposition, and civil society is continuing, with at least three ordinary citizens convicted on October 7 over comments they made on social media.
A court in the eastern city of Mahilyou sentenced 24-year-old Illya Dubski to five years in prison after convicting him of inciting hatred and threatening to attack law enforcement officers.
In Minsk, a court handed a two-year parole-like sentence to Mikhail Bohdan for insulting police officers online, while Valyantsina Pisaruk received a two-year parole-like sentence in the central city of Baranavichy for “insulting” a local top police official in a post.