• Actual
  • Law and the media
  • Helpful
  • Work areas and campaigns
  • Reviews and monitoring
  • E‑NEWSLETTER: Events of «hot spring» in Belarus Bulletin #1(51) (January – April 2017)

    Special issue: Hot Spring 2017


    Fol­low­ing cer­tain reduc­tion of pres­sure on jour­nal­ists and mass media in 2016 and the win­ter of 2017, the sit­u­a­tion in Belarus mass media field dete­ri­o­rat­ed again in March – April 2017. Strict gov­ern­men­tal con­trol over dis­tri­b­u­tion of infor­ma­tion remained the same dur­ing the whole peri­od at that. The dete­ri­o­ra­tion was linked to the inten­tion of Belaru­sian author­i­ties to restrict the media cov­er­age of mass protest actions in the coun­try.

    Thus, the Belaru­sian Asso­ci­a­tion of Jour­nal­ists reg­is­tered 123 cas­es of vio­la­tions of jour­nal­ist rights in con­nec­tion with the media work­ers’ imple­men­ta­tion of pro­fes­sion­al activ­i­ties, includ­ing 94 cas­es of arbi­trary deten­tion and 6 cas­es of phys­i­cal vio­lence, in March 2017.

    Also, there resumed pros­e­cu­tion of Belaru­sian jour­nal­ists for their coop­er­a­tion with for­eign media with­out press accred­i­ta­tions in the peri­od under review.

    In par­tic­u­lar, jour­nal­ists were pun­ished 13 times with huge fines by judges for the alleged ‘vio­la­tion of mass media pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­b­u­tion pro­ce­dures’ in March and April 2017. On March 31st, the police con­duct­ed search­es and seized tech­ni­cal equip­ment in two offices, where the jour­nal­ists, coop­er­at­ing with the ‘Bel­sat’ TV chan­nel worked. The police explained the actions with the need to defend the right to the trade-mark on the right holder’s claim.

    The return of inde­pen­dent print­ed media to the state-owned monop­o­list press dis­tri­b­u­tion net­works was the main pos­i­tive result of the spring 2017 in the Belaru­sian mass media field. It is worth men­tion­ing that the non-state print­ed peri­od­i­cal edi­tions hadn’t been allowed to use the ser­vices of the state-owned press dis­tri­b­u­tion net­works for more than 10 years before that.



    Detentions of journalists, who covered mass protest actions

    In 2016, the Belaru­sian Asso­ci­a­tion of Jour­nal­ists not­ed the reduced num­ber of arbi­trar­i­ly detained jour­nal­ists as a pos­i­tive trend. In par­tic­u­lar, there were reg­is­tered 13 cas­es of deten­tion in 2016 vs. 19 cas­es of deten­tion in 2015 and vs. 167 cas­es of deten­tion in the year of 2011 that fol­lowed the crack­down in the after­math of the Pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in Decem­ber 2010.

    How­ev­er, 18 media work­ers (i.e. near­ly 50% more jour­nal­ists in com­par­i­son with the pre­vi­ous year) were arbi­trar­i­ly detained by police in dif­fer­ent Belaru­sian cities and towns just on the same day of March 12, 2017. Four of them, includ­ing Kat­siary­na Bakhvala­va, Hali­na Abakunchyk, Siarhei Pia­trukhin and Dzmit­ry Har­bunou, were sent to the pre-tri­al cus­tody and had to spend a night there.

    Con­se­quent­ly, S. Pia­trukhin and D. Har­bunou were sen­tenced to 15 days of arrest on admin­is­tra­tive charges.

    36 jour­nal­ists were detained dur­ing the ‘Lib­er­ty Day’ actions, which are tra­di­tion­al­ly cel­e­brat­ed by the Belaru­sian demo­c­ra­t­ic forces on March 25th. Eight of them were detained and sen­tenced to the terms of up to 15 days of arrest on admin­is­tra­tive charges. The court ver­dict in rela­tion to a cam­era­man Ali­ak­san­dr Barazen­ka caused the largest pub­lic response, since the lat­ter had been stream­ing live from the place of the pub­lic action, includ­ing the moment of his deten­tion.

    The police offi­cers stat­ed in their report that Mr. Barazen­ka had been ‘scream­ing, curs­ing, swing­ing his arms, and ignor­ing the police warn­ings’ at the moment of his deten­tion. How­ev­er, the defense pre­sent­ed a video record to court that con­tained the moment, when Mr. Barazen­ka was detained. The footage proved true that the cam­era­man hadn’t com­mit­ted the unlaw­ful acts, which were incrim­i­nat­ed to him. Just on the con­trary, it was clear from the video record that Mr. Barazen­ka per­formed his pro­fes­sion­al duties and informed the police repeat­ed­ly about his jour­nal­is­tic sta­tus.

    Despite the obvi­ous, the judge sen­tenced Mr. Barazen­ka to 15 days of arrest on the alleged admin­is­tra­tive charges of ‘minor hooli­gan­ism’, ground­ed on the writ­ten tes­ti­mo­ny, pro­vid­ed by the engaged police offi­cers.

    All in all, the Belaru­sian Asso­ci­a­tion of Jour­nal­ists reg­is­tered 96 cas­es of arbi­trary deten­tion and 6 cas­es of phys­i­cal vio­lence, exer­cised by police offi­cers in rela­tion to jour­nal­ists in March – April 2017. But for that, there were reg­is­tered 45 facts of pros­e­cu­tion of media work­ers on the alleged admin­is­tra­tive charges with­in the same peri­od under review.

    The jour­nal­ists were sen­tenced to the terms of up to 15 days of arrest in 10 cas­es and fined up to 60 base amounts each (above EUR 650 in equiv­a­lent) in 22 oth­er cas­es. Some cas­es are still pend­ing in courts.   


    Prosecution of journalists for cooperation with foreign media without press credentials

    The pros­e­cu­tion of Belaru­sian free­lance jour­nal­ists for their coop­er­a­tion with for­eign mass media with­out press cre­den­tials from the Min­istry of For­eign Affairs of Belarus resumed in March 2017. As before, the media work­ers were pun­ished for the alleged vio­la­tion of arti­cle 22.9 of Belarus Code on Admin­is­tra­tive Offens­es on the charges of ‘break­ing the mass media leg­is­la­tion’.

    All in all, there were reg­is­tered 13 cas­es of bring­ing jour­nal­ists to admin­is­tra­tive respon­si­bil­i­ty for the alleged vio­la­tion of the legal norm in March – April 2017. The total sum of fines totaled 9,430 Belaru­sian rubles (around EUR 4,715).

    In all the cas­es, the charges were not con­nect­ed to the con­tent of jour­nal­is­tic mate­ri­als. They were relat­ed to the mere fact of their appear­ance in the for­eign media. 

    By the moment of the newslet­ter pub­li­ca­tion, four more jour­nal­ists have been fined on the same admin­is­tra­tive charges. Also, the police car­ry on draft­ing new reports for the alleged­ly con­duct­ed jour­nal­is­tic activ­i­ty in the inter­ests of for­eign media with­out press cre­den­tials. The jour­nal­ists, who con­tribute to the ‘Bel­sat’ TV chan­nel (Poland) are suf­fer­ing from the non­stop pros­e­cu­tion most of all.

    The jour­nal­ists are brought to tri­al, bas­ing on the vague­ly inter­pret­ed part 2 of arti­cle 22.9 in the Belarus Code on Admin­is­tra­tive Offens­es that envis­ages legal lia­bil­i­ty for ille­gal pro­duc­tion and / or dis­tri­b­u­tion of mass media prod­ucts.

    The pros­e­cu­tion pol­i­cy was start­ed in May 2014. The courts fined jour­nal­ists on the charges 38 times till August 2015. The sit­u­a­tion seemed to improve, when being inter­viewed the pres­i­dent of Belarus Ali­ak­san­dr Lukashen­ka promised inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ists to solve the prob­lemCon­se­quent­ly, none of new cas­es were filed since the end of August 2015 till the end of the year. How­ev­er, the pros­e­cu­tion pol­i­cy was resumed in the Homiel region at the begin­ning of 2016. Two jour­nal­ists from Homiel Kas­tus Zhuk­ous­ki and Larysa Shchyrako­va were fined 10 times with­in four months there. As soon as the elec­tions to the Cham­ber of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives approached, pros­e­cu­tion of free­lance jour­nal­ists got tem­porar­i­ly sus­pend­ed in May 2016. How­ev­er, it resumed in March 2017. https://baj.by/en/ana­lyt­ics/fines-jour­nal­ists-vio­lat­ing-arti­cle-229-admin­is­tra­tive-code-chart-updat­ed

    The police con­duct­ed search­es and seized equip­ment in two office premis­es in Min­sk, where the jour­nal­ists, who coop­er­ate with the ‘Bel­sat’ TV chan­nel, worked on March 31, 2017. The com­mand­ment of Min­sk City Police Depart­ment explained the actions with the need to defend the right to the trade mark on the right holder’s claim.

    The BAJ Board adopt­ed a state­ment on April 3, 2017. Among oth­er, it relat­ed the police search­es and the seizure of tech­ni­cal equip­ment with the inten­tion of Belaru­sian offi­cial author­i­ties to ter­mi­nate the inde­pen­dent TV-reporters’ activ­i­ty in the coun­try. First of all, the repres­sive steps were obvi­ous­ly direct­ed to stop the online video-cov­er­age of mass protest actions.


    The return of independent newspapers to the state-owned press distribution networks

    Sev­er­al inde­pen­dent print­ed peri­od­i­cal edi­tions, includ­ing ‘Gaze­ta Slonim­skaya’, ‘Novy Chas’, ‘Intex-press’, and ‘Barysauskiya naviny’, reap­peared in the ‘Sayuz­druk’ news-stalls after more than a 10-years’ break at the begin­ning of April 2017.

    Appar­ent­ly, it was the imme­di­ate out­come of the meet­ing between the ‘Nar­o­d­naya Vola’ Edi­tor-in-chief and Ali­ak­san­dr Lukashen­ka in Feb­ru­ary 2017. Mr. Iosif Siaredzich hand­ed over a list of nine peri­od­i­cal edi­tions that couldn’t get to some of the state-owned press dis­tri­b­u­tion net­works to the head of state. The pres­i­dent promised to solve the prob­lem.

    Con­se­quent­ly, the edi­to­ri­als that addressed to the ‘Sayuz­druk’ enter­prise that holds dom­i­neer­ing posi­tions in the nation­al press dis­tri­b­u­tion field with a request to resume coop­er­a­tion were pro­vid­ed with a pos­si­bil­i­ty to sell their print­ed peri­od­i­cals in the state monopolist’s news-stalls.

    Most of them as well as ‘SNPlus. Svo­bod­nye novosti plus’ and ‘Vol­naye Hly­bokaye’ are nego­ti­at­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty for them to return to the sub­scrip­tion cat­a­logue of ‘Bel­posh­ta’ state-owned enter­prise for the sec­ond half-year of 2017.

    Near­ly 20 inde­pen­dent socio-polit­i­cal news­pa­pers were exclud­ed from the state-owned press dis­tri­b­u­tion net­works on the eve of a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion cam­paign 11 years ago. The ‘Bel­posh­ta’ Nation­al Uni­tary Enter­prise refused to include the peri­od­i­cals into sub­scrip­tion cat­a­logues and the ‘Sayuz­druk’ Enter­prise refused to sell the peri­od­i­cals through a net­work of news-stalls. As a rule, the can­cel­la­tion of con­tracts with edi­to­ri­als of inde­pen­dent news­pa­pers was moti­vat­ed by eco­nom­ic inex­pe­di­en­cy. Con­se­quent­ly, around a half of these peri­od­i­cal edi­tions ter­mi­nat­ed the pro­duc­tion of their pub­li­ca­tions in the print­ed for­mat. Against the back­ground of warm­ing rela­tions between Belarus and the EU, ‘Bel­posh­ta’ and ‘Sayuz­druk’ enter­pris­es resumed coop­er­a­tion with the ‘Nar­o­d­naya Vola’ and ‘Nasha Niva’ news­pa­pers.


    Rating lists, indexes, statistics

    Belarus was ranked 153th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

    The coun­try used to hold the 157th posi­tion in the list of coun­tries for sev­er­al years in a row before.

    Accord­ing to the RSF’s rat­ing list descrip­tion, the World Press Free­dom Index reflects “the degree of free­dom avail­able to jour­nal­ists, mass media, and civ­il soci­ety activists in 180 coun­tries as well as the efforts, which are tak­en by the author­i­ties to respect the free­dom of speech there.”


    IREX measured the ‘Media Sustainability Index’ of Belarus

    The IREX inter­na­tion­al non-for-prof­it NGO pub­lished its annu­al ‘Media Sus­tain­abil­i­ty Index’, ground­ed on experts’ sur­vey results in April 2017.

    Infor­ma­tion about Belarus is pre­sent­ed on more than 10 pages in the glob­al report.

    The coun­tries are eval­u­at­ed in five cat­e­gories. For the first time in his­to­ry, Belarus trans­ferred from the group of unsus­tain­able coun­tries with the anti-press sys­tems to the group of unsus­tain­able coun­tries with the mixed sys­tems in the cat­e­go­ry of ‘Free­dom of speech’. The num­ber of scores near­ly dou­bled from 0.73 to 1.31 in com­par­i­son with 2016 at that. (The min­i­mum score totals ‘0’ and the max­i­mum score totals ‘4’.)

    How­ev­er, it is empha­sized in the report that the free­dom of speech in Belarus has the low­est score in com­par­i­son with oth­er cat­e­gories of research (see page 164 of Index). How­ev­er, in oth­er cat­e­gories Belarus is also includ­ed into the list of unsus­tain­able coun­tries with the mixed sys­tems.

    The most important news and materials in our Telegram channel — subscribe!
    Most read
    Every day send to your mailbox: actual offers (grants, vacancies, competitions, scholarships), announcements of events (lectures, performances, presentations, press conferences) and good content.


    * indicates required

    By subscribing to the newsletter, you agree to the Privacy Policy