(New York, NY) — Editors of the Belarusian independent media portal TUT.By reported on Tuesday that their homes and offices had been searched by the Belarusian Financial Police. The country’s Ministry of Information has also blocked access to the outlet’s website. This move represents an unacceptable attack on press freedom in Belarus, PEN America said today. 

On Tuesday, security forces raided the offices of TUT.By and the building where its editor-in-chief, Marina Zolotova, lives. The doors to the TUT.By office building have reportedly been sealed. Editors working in the office did not respond to calls on Tuesday. 

“In today’s Belarus, an allegation of financial crimes against a news outlet is not about tax evasion; it is about silencing a critical source of independent information and preserving the current system of censorship and oppression in the country,” said Polina Sadovskaya, director of Eurasia Programs at PEN America. “TUT.By has been threatened before, and will likely be threatened again, for the editors’ devotion to honest reporting despite relentless pressure to keep quiet and conform to state ideology. Today’s raids are a reminder that the international community must stay vigilant in support of those in Belarus who continue to speak out and tell truths the government does not want to hear. We call on the Belarusian government to cease these assaults on free expression and press freedom.”     

Belarusian authorities recently launched a criminal case against TUT.By, whose editors are accused of committing large-scale tax evasion. In 2019, the media group was given resident status of the High Technology Park Belarus (HTP), a legal registry which offers specific advantages designed to promote the technology and programming industry. Authorities now claim that TUT.By collected income from activities unrelated to and forbidden by HTP. These actions follow a decision by the Belarusian government in fall 2020 to strip TUT.By of its official media status.

This is not the first prominent raid on journalists this year; in February 2021, PEN America released a statement regarding raids impacting more than 30 journalists. Since August 2020, protests against rigged election results have resulted in thousands of detentions and arrests, as well as widespread crackdowns on independent media. 

PEN America continues to stand in solidarity with the peaceful protestors and independent media in Belarus and condemns all attempts by the authorities to limit free speech.