Maryna Zolatava, editor-in-chief of the popular news portal tut.by, continues to be tried: written materials of the so-called BelTA case are being considered on Monday. The trial started on February, 12 in Minsk.
“The protocols of examining hard disks of computers and phones seized during searches from Tut.by journalists have been studied. The HDs contain the journalists’ correspondence on Skype and the browsing history,” the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) reports.
According to BAJ, the case papers include information the investigators’ logging in journalist Dzmitry Bobryk’s Telegram account. It is noteworthy that they read the interoffice correspondence after August’s raids.
Earlier, Bobryk wrote that after a three-hour interrogation in the Investigative Committee on August 7, he signed a cooperation agreement. According to him, there were direct threats to him and his relatives. However, after law enforcers realized they would get no information. their pressure on him intensified, Bobryk claimed.
“It is very difficult to hack a Telegram account. I do not think the Belarusian Investigative Committee has adequate resources to do that . They might have used a desktop version of Telegram after seizing the equipment from the journalists,” Kiryl Smyahlikau, the host of Belsat TV program Device, said.
Zolatava remains the only accused person in the so-called BelTA case. Other persons involved – 14 employees of various media outlets – were released from criminal prosecution, but held administratively liable. In addition to paying off the fines imposed, the journalists had to compensate for losses (in each case, the sum ranged from 3,000 to 17,000 Belarusian rubles).
She was charged under Part 2 of Article 425 of the Criminal Code (inaction of an official). The maximum penalty for this article is 5 years in prison. Earlier, she was suspected of ‘unauthorized access to computer information’ (part 2 of article 349 of the Criminal Code), but then the prosecution under this article was stopped ‘in connection with a crime that had not been committed’.
The plaintiffs are state-run news agency BelTA and SB Belarus Segodnya Publishing House. During the period from January 3, 2017 to July 23, 2018 Zolatava was not performing her duties ‘by intent’, which made the crime possible; Zolatava did not prevent her colleagues from ‘misusing a username and password’ to BelTA premium content, the prosecutor stated. The username and the password are reported to have belonged to the newspapers Respublika and SB.
The editor-in chief did not admit her guilt. “I believe that my actions do not constitute a crime,” she said.
It should be recalled that an unprecedented wave of media workers’ arrests started in Belarus in August, 2018.
After Iryna Akulovich, Director of the state-run news agency BelTA, had reported ‘illegal access to their premium content’, the Belarusian Investigative Committee initiated a criminal case. According to the authorities’ version, some employees of the above-mentioned media outlets have used another person’s password and got information owned by the Lukashenka mouthpiece over the past two years.
Tut.by journalists Halina Ulasik, Maryna Zolatava, Hanna Kaltyhina, Ulyana Babayed, Dzmitry Bobryk, Hanna Yermachonak, BelaPAN editors Tatsyana Karavyankova, Iryna Leushyna and Andrey Serada, Deutsche Welle correspondent Paulyuk Bykouski and the Belarusians and Market journalist Alyaksei Zhukau were detained. As part of the case, four journalists of the property portal realt.by were interrogated. A few days later, all the journalists were released from custody, but they are still under gag order. All the suspects in the BelTA case are banned from leaving the country.
The Belarusian Association of Journalists called the situation a ‘flagrant violation of freedom of expression and media freedom’. According to the BAJ, the actions of law enforcement agencies were ‘excessive’.