Five employees of what was once the largest authoritarian independent news publication in Belarus went on trial in Minsk on Monday, facing multiple charges including tax evasion and “inciting hatred”, a human rights group said.

The publication covered large-scale protests in 2020, which broke out after President Alexander Lukashenko won a sixth term in the presidential elections.

The editor-in-chief of the publication, Marina Zolatova, and its general director, Lyudmila Chekina, have been in prison since May 2021.

Three more people involved in the case left Belarus before the start of the trial, reports the human rights group “Viasna”.

In the photo from the court, which was published by the oppositionist Svetlana Tsikhanovskaya, Zolatova and Chekin are sitting in a cage for defendants.

“All journalists who fight for the truth must be supported!” Tsikhanovskaya wrote on Twitter on Monday at the beginning of the closed court.

In 2021, the publication was recognized as “extremist”. Some of its employees now work from abroad for the successor publication “Zerkalo”.

In a statement, “Zerkal” says that the case against their former colleagues is “fabricated from beginning to end and appeared only because the regime is afraid of journalists.”

After the historic protests against the regime in 2020, Belarus sought to destroy the remaining foci of dissent, imprisoning journalists and activists and forcing many others into exile.

According to “Viasna”, there are more than 1,400 political prisoners in Belarus.

Last week, the founder of “Viasna” Ales Bialiatski, who became one of the laureates of the Nobel Peace Prize last year, was tried in Belarus, together with several of his associates.

They face from seven to twelve years of imprisonment.

Tsikhanovskaya, who declared victory in Belarus’ disputed 2020 presidential election, will face trial in absentia on January 17 on charges including treason and conspiracy to seize power.

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