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  • E‑NEWSLETTER: MASS MEDIA IN BELARUS Bulletin #1(47) (January – March 2016)

    “There exists a certain probability that the Web-content will be tracked more actively than before, in order to stop dissemination of negative rumors or people’s self-organization attempts…”, - Pauliuk Bykouski, media expert.

    “The Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion will con­tin­ue to require that all stake­hold­ers in the infor­ma­tion field com­ply with the leg­is­la­tion. The legal norms will be applied to restrict access to the Web-resources, which con­tra­dict the nation­al inter­ests in their activ­i­ty…”, — Liliya Ananich, Min­is­ter of Infor­ma­tion of Belarus.


    The begin­ning of 2016 was char­ac­ter­ized by the resump­tion of the admin­is­tra­tive pros­e­cu­tion of Belaru­sian jour­nal­ists for their coop­er­a­tion with for­eign mass media. (It should be remind­ed that the pros­e­cu­tion trend had been sus­pend­ed for some time in August 2016. The pos­i­tive pol­i­cy change fol­lowed pub­lic promis­es to exam­ine the sit­u­a­tion, giv­en by the Pres­i­dent Ali­ak­san­dr Lukashen­ka.)

    Two jour­nal­ists from Homiel were fined sev­en times for their pro­fes­sion­al activ­i­ty in Jan­u­ary – March 2016. More­over, they were fined three times more at the begin­ning of April 2016.

    A jour­nal­ist of the largest Belaru­sian Web-por­tal TUT.BY Pavel Dabravol­s­ki was detained and beat­en by police offi­cers for imple­ment­ing his pro­fes­sion­al duties dur­ing a tri­al ses­sion in Min­sk. More­over, the media work­er was pros­e­cut­ed on admin­is­tra­tive charges at the same court lat­er on. The inci­dent had the broad­est pub­lic response among all media-relat­ed events in the coun­try at the begin­ning of the year.

    The sus­pen­sion of crim­i­nal pro­ceed­ings in rela­tion to a jour­nal­ist and a mil­i­tary expert Ali­ak­san­dr Alesin cap­tured less pub­lic atten­tion at the same time. (The media work­er had been accused of launch­ing coop­er­a­tion with for­eign spe­cial ser­vices. How­ev­er, none of leg­isla­tive inves­ti­ga­tion pro­ce­dures had been imple­ment­ed with the jour­nal­ist for more than a year.)

    The restric­tion of free­dom of expres­sion on the Inter­net can be men­tioned among oth­er events and trends in the Belaru­sian mass media field with­in the peri­od under review. The rein­forc­ing state con­trol over the Inter­net field can be explained by the increas­ing role of the glob­al Web in inform­ing the pub­lic in Belarus.


    The resumption of prosecution of journalists for their cooperation with foreign media

    The pros­e­cu­tion of Belaru­sian jour­nal­ists for coop­er­a­tion with for­eign media with­out the accred­i­ta­tion of the Min­istry of For­eign Affairs resumed at the begin­ning of 2016.

    There were reg­is­tered sev­en cas­es of bring­ing jour­nal­ists to admin­is­tra­tive respon­si­bil­i­ty and impos­ing fines on them in Jan­u­ary – March 2016. All the cas­es took place in Homiel region. A free­lance jour­nal­ist Kas­tantsin Zhuk­ous­ki was fined six times for the total sum of 46.2 mil­lion Belaru­sian rubles (around EUR 2,000) at that. Anoth­er local jour­nal­ist Larysa Shchyrako­va was fined there, too. The reporters were charged for the pre­sen­ta­tion of their video footage in the pro­grams of ‘Bel­sat’ TV chan­nel.

    Three more court rul­ings on bring­ing the jour­nal­ists to admin­is­tra­tive respon­si­bil­i­ty have been issued since recent­ly. (Two more cas­es in rela­tion to L. Shchyrako­va have been closed for pro­ce­dur­al rea­sons.)

    It should be under­scored that the jour­nal­ists were pros­e­cut­ed for the mere fact of pre­sen­ta­tion of their video footage in the for­eign media. The author­i­ties were not con­cerned in the con­tent of the jour­nal­is­tic mate­ri­als at that. Con­se­quent­ly, Kanstantsin Zhuk­ous­ki sewed his mouth shut in protest.

    Jour­nal­ists are pros­e­cut­ed on the grounds of police reports, refer­ring to the arbi­trar­i­ly inter­pret­ed part 2, arti­cle 22.9 of Belarus Code of Admin­is­tra­tive Offences. The legal norm pro­vides for admin­is­tra­tive lia­bil­i­ty for the unlaw­ful pro­duc­tion and / or dis­tri­b­u­tion of mass media prod­ucts. The pros­e­cu­tion prac­tice start­ed in May 2014. Free­lance jour­nal­ists were fined 10 times on these charges in 2014 and 28 times with­in the peri­od of 8 months since Jan­u­ary till August 2015.

    The sit­u­a­tion seemed to improve after A. Lukashenka’s inter­view to inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ists with promis­es to exam­ine the prob­lem on August 4, 2015. None of new cas­es on part 2, arti­cle 22.9 of Belarus Code of Admin­is­tra­tive Offens­es were filed since the end of August till the end of Decem­ber 2015.

    How­ev­er, the prac­tice was resumed in Homiel region in 2016.

    The detention and beating of journalist Pavel Dabravolski

    Pavel Dabravol­s­ki, a jour­nal­ist of TUT.BY Web-por­tal was detained and beat­en by police offi­cers in the premis­es of Frun­zen­s­ki Dis­trict Court of Min­sk on Jan­u­ary 25, 2016.

    The jour­nal­ist report­ed on a con­tro­ver­sial tri­al from the court room. He record­ed the police detain­ing two civ­il activists with ‘No to Polit­i­cal Pros­e­cu­tion!’ ban­ner in their hands. Final­ly, he was detained and beat­en hard togeth­er with the activists in the adja­cent court premis­es. A police report on admin­is­tra­tive offense was drawn up against the jour­nal­ist on the same day. Con­se­quent­ly, the reporter was put on tri­al and fined 9,450,000 Belaru­sian rubles (around EUR 420) for ‘the pet­ty dis­or­der­ly con­duct’ (arti­cle 17.1 of Belarus Code of Admin­is­tra­tive Offens­es) and ‘the refusal to obey the law­ful demands of offi­cers in charge’ (arti­cle 23.4 of Belarus Code of Admin­is­tra­tive Offens­es).

    The inci­dent caused a strong reac­tion of the Belaru­sian jour­nal­is­tic com­mu­ni­ty. Con­se­quent­ly, more than 200 jour­nal­ists signed col­lec­tive appeals to the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion, the Min­istry of Inter­nal Affairs, the Gen­er­al Prosecutor’s Office, and the Supreme Court of Belarus

    The Belaru­sian Asso­ci­a­tion of Jour­nal­ists and Pavel Dabravol­s­ki addressed to the Inves­tiga­tive Com­mit­tee of Belarus with a request to ini­ti­ate crim­i­nal pro­ceed­ings against the attack­ers. The attack on the inde­pen­dent reporter was con­demned by the OSCE Rep­re­sen­ta­tive on the Free­dom of the Media.

    At the same time, the Min­istry of Inter­nal Affairs and the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion of Belarus put all blame on the jour­nal­ist for the inci­dent.

    The court rul­ing to bring P. Dabravol­s­ki to admin­is­tra­tive respon­si­bil­i­ty was left in force, despite the unfin­ished exam­i­na­tion of the case by the Inves­tiga­tive Com­mit­tee of Belarus. https://baj.media/en/content/beating-case-fine-against-journalist-upheld-appeal

    Criminal cases

    A crim­i­nal case against a jour­nal­ist and a famous mil­i­tary observ­er Ali­ak­san­dr Alesin was sus­pend­ed, as report­ed on Jan­u­ary 25, 2016.

    Most prob­a­bly, the case was sus­pend­ed due to the exclu­sion of arti­cle 356.1 “The launch of coop­er­a­tion with a for­eign spe­cial ser­vice, secu­ri­ty body, or intel­li­gence agency” from the Crim­i­nal Code of Belarus by the cor­re­spond­ing Law of Belarus, adopt­ed on Jan­u­ary 5, 2016. It is expect­ed that the case against the reporter will be com­plete­ly closed as soon as the amend­ments to the Crim­i­nal Code of Belarus come into force.

    It is worth remind­ing that the Belaru­sian spe­cial ser­vices detained the mil­i­tary expert and ‘The Belaru­sians and Mar­ket’ weekly’s colum­nist Ali­ak­san­dr Alesin on Novem­ber 24, 2014. It became known about his deten­tion at the end of Decem­ber only. How­ev­er, nei­ther the rea­sons for the deten­tion, nor the journalist’s loca­tion were made pub­lic at that time. Lat­er on, it appeared that the reporter was kept in cus­tody in the KGB pre-tri­al jail.

    Ini­tial­ly, the jour­nal­ist was accused of trea­son (arti­cle 356 of the Crim­i­nal Code of Belarus) and launch­ing coop­er­a­tion with a spe­cial secu­ri­ty ser­vice or an intel­li­gence agency of a for­eign state (arti­cle 356–1 of the Crim­i­nal Code of Belarus). Sub­se­quent­ly, he was cleared of the charge of trea­son.

    A. Alesin was released from cus­tody on his own recog­ni­zance on Decem­ber 10, 2014. None of inves­tiga­tive actions were con­duct­ed with the jour­nal­ist for more than a year.

    At the begin­ning of March 2016, the Inves­tiga­tive Com­mit­tee of Belarus con­firmed the fact of con­duct­ing crim­i­nal inves­tiga­tive actions, con­cern­ing a range of pub­li­ca­tions on the Web-site www.1863x.com, to the Bela­PAN News Agency.

    Report­ed­ly, the legal inves­ti­ga­tion was con­duct­ed with­in two crim­i­nal cas­es, which had been filed for the incite­ment of racial, nation­al, or reli­gious hatred (part 1, arti­cle 130 of the Crim­i­nal Code of Belarus) and dis­tri­b­u­tion of porno mate­ri­als (part 2, arti­cle 343 of the Crim­i­nal Code of Belarus).

    The Web-site own­er Jhon Sil­ver was the first to tell about the crim­i­nal pro­ceed­ings. Accord­ing to him, he was detained by the spe­cial ser­vices and tak­en to a psy­chi­atric hos­pi­tal in May 2015. He fled Belarus in the autumn of 2015. At the begin­ning of 2016, there appeared reports in the media that the blog­ger had been detained on the ter­ri­to­ry of Rus­sia and that the pos­si­bil­i­ty of his extra­di­tion to Belarus was dis­cussed. Accord­ing to the Bela­PAN News Agency, the Min­istry of Inter­nal Affairs of Belarus declared him want­ed for break­ing his recog­ni­zance not to leave the place of his res­i­dence.

    The Web-site www.1863x.com was cre­at­ed by an anony­mous blog­ger, nick­named Jhon Sil­ver, around 1.5 years ago. “It presents polit­i­cal texts with fre­quent crit­i­cal remarks in rela­tion to the Belaru­sian and Russ­ian offi­cial author­i­ties. The Web-site founder runs the online resource com­plete­ly anony­mous­ly. The Inter­net is the only means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion the per­son uses for keep­ing in touch with the authors and giv­ing inter­views,” the Bela­PAN News Agency reports.

    Restrictions on freedom of activity on the Internet

    The pub­lic access to the Bela­PAN News Agency’s Web-site was blocked sub­ject to a severe hack­er attack in the after­noon of Feb­ru­ary 15, 2016.

    “It hap­pened on the day, when impor­tant events took place in the pub­lic life of the coun­try, includ­ing a man­i­fes­ta­tion of indi­vid­ual entre­pre­neurs in Octo­ber Square in Min­sk and the EU Coun­cil meet­ing in Brus­sels, where a deci­sion to lift sanc­tions from the major­i­ty of Belaru­sian offi­cials was dis­cussed,” the Bela­PAN News Agency reports.

    It wasn’t the first hack­er attack on the News Agency’s Web-sites dur­ing impor­tant pub­lic events.

    Thus, www.naviny.by and www.belapan.by Web-sites suf­fered DDoS attacks on Octo­ber 3, 2015. Most prob­a­bly, they were con­nect­ed with a pub­li­ca­tion about the forced gath­er­ing of peo­ple for par­tic­i­pa­tion in ‘The Prayer for Belarus’ event with Ali­ak­san­dr Lukashen­ka. The report led to a broad pub­lic response in the coun­try. The access to both blocked Web-sites was resumed on Octo­ber 6, 2015.

    On Decem­ber 19, 2014, there appeared prob­lems with access to a num­ber of news Web-sites, includ­ing belapan.com, belapan.by, naviny.by, belaruspartisan.org, udf.by, 21.by, gazetaby.com, zautra.by, and charter97.org. The ‘Bel­t­ele­com’ Nation­al Uni­tary Enter­prise deliv­ered a pub­lic state­ment about a DDoS attack on its data cen­ter equip­ment. How­ev­er, the elim­i­na­tion of tech­ni­cal prob­lems didn’t lead to restora­tion of access to the blocked Web-resources. The access to the above-men­tioned Web-sites was resumed on Decem­ber 22, 2014 only.

    The Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion of Belarus issued offi­cial writ­ten warn­ings to the pop­u­lar news Web-resources EJ.BY and NN.BY on March 2, 2016. Accord­ing to the Min­is­ter of Infor­ma­tion of Belarus Liliya Ananich, the warn­ings were issued to the indi­cat­ed online media ‘for pub­li­ca­tion of false infor­ma­tion and post­ing the infor­ma­tion that may harm the pub­lic inter­ests’. More­over, there was restrict­ed access to five infor­ma­tion­al Web-resources for dis­trib­ut­ing infor­ma­tion about drugs.

    The Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion restrict­ed access to 46 Web-resources since the moment it gained the con­trol­ling func­tions over the nation­al Web field on Jan­u­ary 1, 2015 till March 1, 2016.

    Accord­ing to the cor­re­spond­ing min­is­te­r­i­al report, the access to cer­tain Web-sites was restrict­ed for their dis­sem­i­na­tion of infor­ma­tion about drugs as well as for “the use of taboo and vul­gar vocab­u­lary, the dis­tri­b­u­tion of porn prop­a­gat­ing post­ings, the improp­er adver­tis­ing of medica­ments, the dis­tri­b­u­tion of infor­ma­tion that may harm the pub­lic inter­ests, the adver­tis­ing of alco­holic drinks, and the dis­sem­i­na­tion of extrem­ist mate­ri­als.” The Min­istry renewed access to four Web-resources from the ‘ban list’ lat­er on.

    The Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion of Belarus was enti­tled with the right to issue offi­cial warn­ings to the own­ers of infor­ma­tion­al Web-resources and take deci­sions on restrict­ing access to Web-sites, regard­less of the pres­ence of offi­cial warn­ings, fol­low­ing the intro­duc­tion of amend­ments to the Belarus law ‘On Mass Media’, which came into force on Jan­u­ary 1, 2015.


    Accord­ing to the results of a soci­o­log­i­cal sur­vey, pre­sent­ed by the Infor­ma­tion­al-Ana­lyt­i­cal Cen­ter at the Admin­is­tra­tion of the Pres­i­dent of Belarus, 64% of the adult pop­u­la­tion of Belarus makes use of the Inter­net, the BelTA State News Agency reports.

    87.5% of respon­dents enter the glob­al Web prac­ti­cal­ly every day. 85.5% of respon­dents spend more than an hour a day online.

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