KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — A Belarusian journalist who reported on a police raid at a popular news site has been given a 15-day jail term, a media rights group said Friday.
The Belarusian Association of Journalists said Artym Mayorau of the Belarusians and the Market newspaper has been in custody since Tuesday when he came to cover the raid at the Tut.by office and was detained by police.
The Moskovsky District Court in Minsk convicted Mayorau on charges of “petty hooliganism” and handed him a 15-day sentence.
Belarusian authorities on Tuesday made the Tut.by news site unavailable to readers and raided its offices and the homes of some staff members. Officials maintained that the news site, arguably the most popular one in Belarus, violated media laws by publishing content on behalf of BYSOL, a foundation that helps victims of political repression but lacks proper state registration.
The authorities also accused Tut.by of tax evasion and launched a criminal investigation against the site’s top staff members. They could face charges that carry a maximum penalty of seven years in prison.
Fourteen Tut.by staff members and workers from companies affiliated with the site have remained in custody following the raids. The widow of Tut.by founder Yury Zisser, Yuliya Charnyauskaya, has been put under house arrest.
The U.S. and the European Union have strongly condemned the crackdown on Tut.by.
The raids on Tut.by are part of a sweeping governmental campaign to stifle dissent and independent media. Large protests were triggered by authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko’s re-election to a sixth term in August in a vote that the opposition rejected as rigged.
More than 34,000 people have been arrested in Belarus since August, and thousands were brutally beaten. Authorities also have targeted independent media outlets, leveling criminal charges against some reporters.
The Belarusian Association of Journalists said 27 media workers are currently behind bars, either awaiting trial or serving sentences.
“Belarus has become the most dangerous country in Europe for journalists,” said the association’s head, Andrei Bastunets. “The crackdown on Tut.by and the strengthening of repressions against journalists have deprived millions of Belarusians of freedom of information.”
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