On 17 March, Minsk City Court read out the sentence in the TUT.BY case.
The closed trial of the liquidated TUT.BY MEDIA staff members started on 9 January and ended in the judge handing down harsh sentences: editor-in-chief Maryna Zolatava and CEO Ludmila Chekina received 12 years in prison each. They have been behind bars since 18 May 2021, when law enforcers searched the media’s office and detained half a dozen of its staff members.
Three more defendants were supposed to stand trial: Volha Loika, editor-in-chief of the political-economic section, Alena Talkachova, editor of the real estate section, and Katsiaryna Tkachenka, a legal consultant at TUT.BY. They were bailed last year with a pledge to appear in court, but left the country as soon as the court date was announced. The “fugitives” have been put on an international wanted list and their case was severed.
The TUT.BY workers were accused of several “crimes” that a priori entailed long terms of imprisonment: grand tax evasion, inciting hatred, causing harm to national security, etc. In addition, Ludmila Chekina, Maryna Zolatava, Volha Loika, and Alena Talkachova were included in the KGB list as persons “associated with terrorist activities”.
Ludmila Chekina, Maryna Zolatava, Volha Loika, and Alena Talkachova were accused of publishing articles on the media outlet TUT.BY and its affiliated social media pages presenting “a positive assessment of the actions of the opponents of the authorities and a negative assessment of the officials advocating the maintenance of the existing constitutional order, as well as implicit coordination of protest activity, information aimed at destabilizing the situation and harming national security”.
On 18 May 2021, law enforcers raided the TUT.BY editorial office. Half a dozen of staff members were arrested, including Yulia Charniauskaya, wife of the deceased founder of the portal Yury Ziser. Criminal cases were brought against all of them under part 2 of article 243 of the Criminal Code (grand tax evasion). The Ministry of Information ruled to block the outlet’s website, and the activities of numerous journalist teams were paralyzed.
Soon journalists and managers who were lucky to flee Belarus established Zerkalo.io, a media substituting TUT.BY.