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TUT.BY: Independent Belarus media website blocked after series of raids

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By Euronews
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Belarusian interior ministry guard an empty street to prevent a rally in March.
Belarusian interior ministry guard an empty street to prevent a rally in March.   -   Copyright  BelaPan via AP, FILE
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The website of Belarus' leading independent media outlet, TUT.BY, has been blocked by authorities after a series of raids.

Editors of the channel reported on Tuesday that their offices were searched by agents of the Belarusian Financial Investigation Department (DFR).

Marina Zolotova said officials had raided her office, her home, and the homes of journalists. At least six employees were taken in for questioning, the Belarusian Association of Journalists said.

"The co-founder of TUT.BY Kirill Voloshin announces that the portal's domain has been blocked," the organisation said on social media.

"A criminal case has been initiated against TUT.BY by the DFR," the outlet added. The independent news website remained inaccessible in Belarus and abroad on Tuesday evening.

Euronews has contacted the DFR for a further statement on the reported searches.

According to TUT.BY, the investigative authority said that it was conducting raids at the media outlet over "tax fraud".

Belarus' Ministry of Information has confirmed that they had restricted access to TUT.BY following an order by the country's general prosecutor.

"The General Prosecutor's Office has established numerous facts of violations of the law ... in terms of posting prohibited information in a number of publications on the TUT.BY website," they said in a statement.

This information was said to include content about the "unregistered" BYSOL foundation, which aims to support victims of repression in the country.

"It is prohibited to disseminate information on Internet resources on behalf of organisations that have not undergone state registration in the prescribed manner," the ministry said.

TUT.BY, which receives up to 20 million unique daily visitors, is the country's main independent media and had extensively covered the demonstrations and the violent crackdown by the authorities.

Several of its reporters have been sentenced to short prison terms for "participating" in the rallies, Belarus said.

In recent months, President Lukashenko has overseen the repression of the country's independent media, as well as foreign reporters.

In February, Daria Chultsova and Katerina Bakhvalova of the Polish-based opposition channel Belsat were sentenced to two years in prison on charges of fomenting unrest while covering the 2020 protest movement.

The Belarusian authorities have also stopped broadcasting Euronews' Russian language news channel.

"Today we are witnessing the deliberate 'murder' of the independent media TUT.BY," said Belarusian opposition figure Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.

Tsikhanouskaya, who was forced into exile from Belarus following the opposition protests, said her team was in contact with the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.

"I call on the international community to immediately react to the regime's crackdown against independent media in Belarus," she tweeted on Tuesday.

"This is a planned attack on our journalists and media, and they need legal protection and emergency relocation. It is crucial to help the media continue their work."

In a statement on Facebook, the EU delegation to Belarus said "freedom of the media must be upheld."

Meanwhile, Lithuania's Foreign Ministry described the searches and blocking of TUT.BY as a "shameful crackdown".

Additional sources • AFP