Belarusian Journalists Charged With 'Illegally Obtaining Data' From State-Run News Agency

MINSK -- Belarusian authorities have charged the chief editor of the BelaPAN private news agency and the editor of the independent online news portal with illegally obtaining information via the Internet from the state-run BelTA news agency.

BelaPAN’s Iryna Leushyna and Halina Ulasik of told journalists that they were charged after being summoned to the Investigative Committee on November 8.

One editor for BelaPAN and five journalists from were handed similar charges earlier this week, according to the two women.

The eight journalists were among 18 reporters detained for 24 hours for questioning in August as part of the investigation.

Investigators have also searched the newsrooms of and BelaPAN.

Rights groups have charged that the government is trying to muzzle independent media that are critical of strongman President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and his government.

The Belarusian Foreign Ministry has denied that allegation.

If found guilty, the journalists may face hefty fines or up to two years in prison.

With reporting by and BelaPAN