Police hold 11 staff of popular Belarus media outlet

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko visits a polling station during the presidential election in Minsk, Belarus

Belarusian police were holding 11 employees of the widely-followed news site Tut.by in custody on Wednesday, the outlet said, a day after searching offices and homes in a criminal investigation of suspected tax evasion.

Authorities on Tuesday blocked the website of Tut.by, which has provided detailed coverage of street protests since August against longtime President Alexander Lukashenko.

On Wednesday, it used social media to publish a list of detained staff members, including its chief editor and several administrative employees. It said it was still piecing together what had happened during Tuesday’s searches.

The State Control Committee, to which the financial investigation department reports, said on Tuesday a case against unnamed staff had been opened over suspected tax irregularities.

Exiled opposition politician Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya accused authorities of trying to “murder” the outlet and called for Western sanctions on those responsible.

In power since 1994, Lukashenko launched a violent crackdown last year against the protests.

Around 35,000 people have been detained for taking part in street protests since August, human rights groups say. Dozens have received jail terms. Authorities say that more than 1,000 criminal cases have been opened.

Last autumn, the government stripped Tut.by of its official media status and the two have been at odds throughout the demonstrations.

One of its journalists was sentenced to six months in jail in March after she challenged an official assertion that a protester who was killed was drunk at the time of his death. She was released on Wednesday due to time served.

The outlet’s website registered more than half a million views per day during the working week in 2019, according to data from research company Gemius.

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