Belarus Journalist Arrested While Covering Tut.By Raid Sentenced To 15 Days

By RFE/RL's Belarus Service

Journalist Artsyom Mayorau has been sentenced to 15 days in jail for "petty hooliganism" after he reported on a police raid at the popular news site Tut.by.

Mayorau, who works for the Belarusians And The Market newspaper, was sentenced by the Moskovsky District Court in Minsk on May 21.

A police report said that a policeman allegedly approached Mayorau to have a "preventive conversation" with the journalist, when he "started swearing and waving his arms."

Belarusian authorities have launched a severe crackdown on independent journalists in the country as they look to silence reporters from covering a wave of dissent sparked by a disputed presidential election last August that handed authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka his sixth consecutive term in power.

Mayorau was reporting when financial police launched a probe into Tut.by, the country's largest independent online media outlet, and raided its offices and the homes of some of its staff saying it violated media laws by publishing content on behalf of BYSOL, a foundation that helps victims of political repression but lacks proper state registration.

Fourteen Tut.by staff members and workers from companies affiliated with the site remain in custody following the raids. The widow of Tut.by founder Yury Zisser, Yuliya Charnyauskaya, has been put under house arrest.

The United States, human rights groups, and media freedom watchdogs have denounced the move against Tut.by.

Calling the case against Tut.by “a new attempt to silence the most well-known independent media in Belarus,” Christophe Deloire, executive director of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), has urged the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to “ensure respect for the right to the freedom to inform" in the country.

Tens of thousands of people in Belarus have been swept up in the crackdown. Protesters say the election was rigged in favor of Lukashenka, who has ruled Belarus since 1994.

Dozens of reporters have been temporarily detained or jailed over the ensuing nine months.

Following the presidential election, "dozens of sociopolitical and media sites were blocked in Belarus, and a number of print outlets were forced to stop publishing," according to the Belarusian Association of Journalists.

As of May 18, 16 journalists and other media workers were behind bars, it said.

Lukashenka has insisted he won the August 9, 2020 election and has refused to negotiate with the opposition.

Opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who insists she won the vote, says she was forced to leave Belarus for Lithuania a day after the election amid threats to herself and her family.

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