The crackdown on free press in Belarus intensified this week as authorities blocked the largest news site Tut.by and interrogated its journalists.
On Tuesday, May 18th, financial police raided the homes of the oulet’s chief editor Marina Zolotova and numerous journalists working for Tut.by. Zolotova and a dozen other employees were detained. Formally, the authorities accuse Tut.by of tax evasion, with police having opened a criminal case against large-scale tax fraud.
The outlet’s website was blocked in Belarus this week, and it went offline even outside the country. On Tuesday, Meduza reported that the site had reappeared under new address tutby.news; as of Thursday, however, this site is down as well.
Tut.by continues to operate through social media, including its Instagram profile and Telegram channel with over 840,000 and 500,000 subscribers, respectively. In a post on Thursday, it reiterated that “we are blocked but continue to work on social media” and thanked the readers for an unprecedented level of support.
The attack is so significant because Tut.by is among the oldest, most popular, and most venerated media outlets in the country. It was founded in 2000 as a web portal with a goal to become “Belarusian Yahoo!”, providing an email service and serving various other functions; later, it also became a media publication.
As Russian media manager Dmitry Navosha put it, Tut.by is “one of the few established institutions” in Belarus, having emerged “miraculously” despite the limited press freedom over the past decades.
According to one estimate, Tut.by reached 65% of Belarusian internet users in 2020. In late 2020, it was stripped of its media license by the authorities but continued to operate.
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Photo by Tut.by, Facebook