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Belarus jails top news site execs for 12 years

MOSCOW – Belarus on Friday handed lengthy prison sentences to senior employees of the country’s largest independent news site, which was forced to shut down after historic demonstrations against strongman Alexander Lukashenko.

The verdicts are the latest in a crackdown on journalists, opposition figures and activists questioning Lukashenko’s claims that he won a sixth term as president in 2020.

A court in Minsk has sentenced the editor-in-chief of the portal, Marina Zolotova, 45, and general director Lyudmila Chekina, 54, to 12 years in prison.

The women faced a range of charges, including tax evasion – which critics say is regularly used as an excuse to silence dissent – and “incitement to hatred”.

The exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaya, who critics of Lukashenko say won the presidential election, condemned the long prison sentences.

“The sentence for Marina Zolotova and Lyudmila Chekina is another attempt by the regime to kill honest journalism in Belarus,” she said.

The media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called for the women to be released.

“RSF is outraged by this unjust verdict, which is Lukashenko’s revenge on those who inform the population,” the Paris-based campaigning group said.

The Belarusian Union of Journalists condemned the verdict as “cruel revenge for the truth”.

The trial comes in the context of massive rallies that erupted after the August 2020 vote against Lukashenko and the crackdown he unleashed on perceived critics of his nearly 30-year rule.

Earlier this month, Belarus imposed a 10-year prison sentence on Nobel laureate and human rights activist Ales Bialiatski, sparking international outrage.

Thousands of people were arrested during anti-Lukashenko rallies, hundreds claimed to have been ill-treated in custody, and almost all opposition figures have since been exiled or imprisoned.

The raid extended to journalists. In the course of the push against opposition voices,’s offices were raided and the media group was declared an “extremist organization” and shut down in 2022.

Zolotova and Chekina were both arrested in May 2021 along with a dozen colleagues. Their homes were also searched.

– ‘Integrity and Resilience’ –

RSF previously dismissed the charges against the women as “absurd” and pointed out that the trial was held behind closed doors.

Fearing reprisals, some of’s employees fled the country – including to Ukraine – and resumed their activities under the name Zerkalo (“mirror” in Russian).

The media outlet’s employees abroad have not revealed their identities for fear of bringing law enforcement officials to the attention of family members who are still in Belarus.

“Mila, Marina, we are proud of you. Her integrity and resilience are an example to all of us,” said Zerkalo staff ahead of the sentencing.

“We will continue your work – tell the true news to the people of Belarus, no matter what.”

Belarus also jailed two other suspected government critics on Friday.

Political scientist and website editor Valeria Kostyugova was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

She was convicted at the same time as Tatyana Kuzina, who founded a school of public administration, and was also sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Both were accused of inciting hatred, undermining national security and supporting actions to overthrow the government.

Opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2021.

She was part of a trio of women – along with Veronika Tsepkalo and Tikhanovskaya – who led the massive rallies.

Both Tsepkalo and Tikhanovskaya, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison in absentia, live in exile.

Source: Crypto News Deutsch

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