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TUT.BY editors' phones were tapped BEFORE 'Belta case' investgation


On the morning of 7 August, the Investigation Committee agents raided the newsrooms of Belarus' leading internet news portal TUT.BY and private news agency BelaPAN In Minsk. Several editors and journalists were detained as suspects in the so called 'Belta case' - they were suspected of the illegal access to the paid newswire of state-run news agency Belta. On the same day in the evening, the newspaper owned by the presidential administration SB-Belarus Segodnya published an article on the "theft of information from Belta's paid subscription news feed" featuring an evidence of the "crime" - an audio record of the conversation between two TUT.BY editors. In this record, one can hear the words "Yes, we are stealing" pronounced by one of the two voices.

For now, we will not question the legality of the publication of an evidence piece before the trial and the court ruling. Instead, we will do what SB's "investigative journalism unit" was not interested in doing: to compare some dates. But let's start from the very beginning.

“The crimincal case was opened after the complaint from the national unitary enterprise [state-run news agency] Belta about problems experienced by a client when accessing the state-news agency's paid subscription news feed. The Interior Ministry began an inquiry and identidied numerous cases when Belta-owned computer information was illegally accessed,” reads the comment in SB by the spokesperson for the Investigation Committee Siarhei Kabakovich.

It means that the phones of TUT.BY editors were tapped after Belta's management had approached the law-enforcement and asked for an inquiry. What date exactly did it happen? Euroradio asked the Investigation Committee but our two questions  - the date the criminal case was opened and the date when Belta filed its complaint with the Interior Ministry - remained unanswered.

It was Belta CEO Iryna Akulovich who answered our second questions, altough with a quite approximate date.

“It was either late April or early May. I' am afraid I can give you the wrong date and it will later turn out I gave you false information," says Iryna Akulovich.

Iryna Akulovich was appointed Belta CEO and Editor-in-Chief in the beginning of April 2018. She also said that complaints from their cusotmers about problems with access to the paid news feed began after her appointment and not before.

Now, let's ask TUT.BY Editor-in-Chief Maryna Zolotova when that conversation with the words "we are stealing" took place.

“The conversation was in March,” Zolotova answers briefly.

Now, let's simply compare the dates: the conversation was tapped in March but the complaint from Belta to the Interior and the inquiry took place in late April -  early May. The difference is at least one month! But what are the legal grouns for tapping the phones of TUT.BY editors before the criminal case or inquiry was opened?

Lawyer Pavel Sapelka does not rule out that the phones could have been tapped as for the 'operational purposes." Yet, there is no answer why and who authorized the tapping.

Euroradio has learned that although it was the Investigation Committee agents who passed the audio record to SB - Belarus Segodnya newspaper, they did record the tapped conversation. In March, the police could not be making an inquiry following the Belta's complaint. Hence, most likely, they did not tap the phones either.

Apart from the Prosecutor's Office, only the chairman of the Investigation Committee or the chairman of the State Security Committee (KGB) have powers to authorize the tapping of journalists' phones. It means the answes becomes obvious.