A leading news site in Belarus has been taken offline and its journalists interrogated by government officials in what human rights campaigners are calling a “full-scale assault” on the right to freedom of expression in the country.
Tut.by, a news site read by more than 40% of Belarusian internet users, has been blocked and its editors questioned after their offices and houses were raided by authorities.
“This is a cowardly step taken by a government which fears truth and resorts to brutal measures to suppress human rights,” said Aisha Jung, senior campaigner on Belarus at Amnesty International.
“It 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.”
Katerina Borisevich, a Tut.by journalist, after her release from prison in Gomel, Belarus, today after being sentenced to six months in jail. Photograph: Reuters
This latest move to suppress media freedoms comes after a Tut.by reporter, Katerina Borisevich, was sentenced to six months in prison in March after reporting on the death of a peaceful protester, Roman Bondarenko, in November. She was released from prison on Wednesday.
The BBC reported that a number of Belarusian journalists have been jailed in the past week, including another Tut.by journalist, Lyubov Kasperovich, who was given 15 days in police custody for attending an unauthorised gathering.
The Belarusian government blocked access to Tut.by after accusing it of “numerous facts of violations of the law on mass media” and, specifically, the publication of material coming from the BYSOL foundation, an unregistered fundraising initiative to support victims of political repression in Belarus. Legislation in Belarus prohibits the media from disseminating information on behalf of unregistered organisations, according to Amnesty International.
Last October, Tut.by’s media credentials were revoked following its coverage of peaceful protests that had erupted across the country after the widely disputed presidential election.
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, leader of the opposition in Belarus, called the move “a planned attack on our journalists and media”. She said on Twitter: “We are witnessing the deliberate ‘murder’ of the independent media @tutby. A group of people holding power in Belarus is the real occupation regime: they kill media, kill political parties & civic communities, and kill us on the streets and in prisons.”
Jung added: “The scope of this attack cannot be underestimated since more than 40% of Belarusian internet users refer to Tut.by for news, forums and other services. The government must end its suffocating crackdown on independent voices and immediately reverse the blocking of Tut.by.”