Independent journalist facing trial in Belarus

Marina Zolotova, editor-in-chief of news portal tut.by, attends a hearing over the so-called BelTA case, a case charging a number of Belarus’ journalists with an unauthorised access to the state-run BelTA news agency’s feed, at a court in Minsk on February 12, 2019. — AFP pic
Marina Zolotova, editor-in-chief of news portal tut.by, attends a hearing over the so-called BelTA case, a case charging a number of Belarus’ journalists with an unauthorised access to the state-run BelTA news agency’s feed, at a court in Minsk on February 12, 2019. — AFP pic

MINSK, Feb 12 — The editor of Belarus’s biggest independent news site went on trial today in a case condemned by rights groups as part of a crackdown on the media.

Marina Zolotova, the editor-in-chief of tut.by, was arrested in August along with nine other journalists over alleged “unauthorised access” to information from a state news agency.

If convicted she faces up to five years in jail and a possible ban from holding managerial positions.

The other journalists, from tut.by and other outlets, were released after being ordered to pay fines and damages to the state BelTA news service.

A smiling Zolotova appeared in a Minsk court to applause from dozens of supporters on the first day of her trial.

She rejected the allegations.

“This case is specifically targeting tut.by,” Zolotova, 41, told the website of the Belarusian Association of Journalists before the hearing.

“We have more than a million views a day, while the BelTA news agency and other state outlets have significantly less. This is an attempt not to close, but to weaken the competition,” she said.

Zolotova is being charged over “official inaction,” or negligence, for failure to control her subordinates when they accessed BelTA.

The Council of Europe and Reporters Without Borders expressed concern at the time of the journalists’ detentions in August.

Paulyuk Bykowski, a Belarusian journalist who works for Deutsche Welle, Germany’s public international broadcaster, was held for two days and his home raided during the crackdown.

The charges were brought despite the fact that BelTA makes its stories freely accessible 15 minutes after subscribers see them.

Ex-Soviet Belarus, ruled by authoritarian Alexander Lukashenko since 1994, was ranked 155th out of 180 in last year’s Reporters Without Borders world press freedom index. — AFP