MINSK – Belarusian authorities on Tuesday detained at least three journalists during searches of the offices of two independent news websites over “unauthorised” access to the services of the country’s state news agency.

The editors of Tut.by, Maria Zolotova and Anna Kaltygina, as well as BelaPAN journalist Tatiana Korovenkova were detained, the Belarusian Investigative Committee said in a statement.
They are accused of “unauthorised access to computer information for reasons of personal gain,” it added.

The statement said a criminal case was opened after state news agency BelTA complained of their failure to pay subscription fees.
If found guilty, they face up to two years in prison. Tut.by said the editor of its “Society” section Ulyana Boboyed was also detained and added that “several other” employees were interrogated.
Authorities said the websites made more than 15,000 “unauthorised connections” to BelTa, without the state news outlet’s “knowledge or consent.” “As a result of the committed crimes, BelTa suffered significant harm” and its “business reputation was harmed,” the Investigative Committee said.
In July a Minsk court sentenced independent journalist Dzmitry Halko to four years in prison for allegedly assaulting a police officer.

Belarus is ranked 155th out of 180 in this year’s Reporters Without Borders world press freedom index.
President Alexander Lukashenko has ruled the ex-Soviet country, which shares borders with three EU member states, with an iron fist since 1994.  (AFP)