Tut.by takes down 18 months worth of social media posts ahead of impending ‘extremism’ designation
Belarus’s leading independent news outlet, Tut.by, has taken down its social media archive for the entirety of 2020 and first half of 2021, in order to protect its staff and readers ahead of an impending “extremism” designation. Tut.by also removed the log-in verification option from its Telegram channel.
These changes prompted speculation that the newsroom had lost access to its social media accounts, but the editorial office assured that this was not the case. In a statement published on June 28, Tut.by said that these decisions were made in connection with the Belarusian Interior Ministry appealing to Minsk’s Central District Court to blacklist the outlet’s reporting and social media content as “extremist.”
Tut.by said that where possible, its social media posts were “hidden” from the public; posts that couldn’t be hidden were removed from public access.
“We have an entire archive of hidden and deleted posts. This information isn’t lost forever. But now, for the safety of our colleagues (and these aren’t just journalists) and readers, we have decided to remove these posts from public access.
We removed [the verification option on Telegram] ourselves. Because our Telegram channel might be recognized as extremist, we must be able to rename it quickly, in order to protect both our authors and our readers. This can’t be done a couple minutes after the court’s decision, we decided to prepare in advance.”
The editorial office also noted that it “rushed” to remove its social media archive. “Right now, the situation we find ourselves in is wild and very stressful for us. At some point, we made a controversial and emotional decision,” Tut.by said.
On May 18, the Belarusian authorities blocked Tut.by’s website and froze the company’s bank accounts. They also initiated a felony tax evasion case against Tut.by’s leadership, arresting 15 people in connection with the investigation, including the outlet’s general director Lyudmila Chekina and editor-in-chief Marina Zolotova.
The Minsk court was supposed to make its ruling on the “extremism” suit against Tut.by on June 24, but consideration of the Interior Ministry’s claim was suspended after the publication’s lawyers filed a counter-petition.