The leading independent news website Tut.by, which had courageously reported about demonstrations against Mr. Lukashenko’s theft of the election, was taken offline, and the authorities searched its offices and affiliates, as well as the homes of several editors, including its editor in chief, Maryna Zolatava. The financial investigations department of the State Control Committee announced that the outlet was being investigated on charges of tax evasion, but that appears to be a thinly disguised pretext for silencing a source of independent news and information.
“Today we are witnessing the premeditated murder of independent media portal Tut.by,” declared Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the opposition leader who defeated Mr. Lukashenko in the election and then fled abroad after threats against her and her family. Mr. Lukashenko brazenly falsified the election results to award himself another term, sparking massive street protests. Demonstrators were detained by the thousands, and many were beaten in jail. On Monday, Mr. Lukashenko signed into law legislation that allows police and security forces to shoot at demonstrators.
The independent press has been in his crosshairs for months. Last month, we pointed to the inspiring example of journalist Katsiaryna Barysevich. When Raman Bandarenka, an activist, was beaten to death in Minsk in November, allegedly by plainclothes officers, the authorities claimed the police found him drunk and already beaten. But medical documents leaked to Ms. Barysevich, who was working for Tut.by, proved Mr. Bandarenka had not been intoxicated, and videos on the day of his killing showed men chasing and beating him. For her efforts to report the truth, Ms. Barysevich received a six-month jail term, which is set to expire on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, a court sentenced another Tut.by journalist, Lyubov Kasperovich, to 15 days in prison for simply covering the trial of a dozen young protesters. If released, these journalists will find the website Tut.by under siege. Journalists were detained more than 400 times last year, some of them on multiple occasions, according to the Belarusian Association of Journalists and the Committee to Protect Journalists. Mr. Lukashenko’s jails hold more than 340 political prisoners.
Last month, the United States blocked transactions with nine Belarus oil and petrochemical companies, and it has sanctioned some 109 officials implicated in the repression. The Biden administration must use leverage contained in legislation passed by Congress to sanction any Russians who assist with the Belarus crackdown. Meanwhile, Ms. Tikhanovskaya has suggested that all those who persecute journalists should be targeted for sanctions. It would be wise, too, for the United States and the European Union to extend a hand to the beleaguered journalists so their voices will not be silenced and their channels will not go dark.