• Actual
  • Law and the media
  • Helpful
  • Work areas and campaigns
  • Reviews and monitoring
  • E‑NEWSLETTER: MASS MEDIA IN BELARUS Bulletin #2(58) (January – June 2019)


    The general situation in the Belarusian mass media field was controversial in the first half-year 2019. On the one hand, it was influenced by the overwhelming trend of reinforcing governmental control over the media space. On the other hand, due to hosting the 2nd European Games, the official authorities were pushed towards greater openness of the country. A complicated foreign policy and economic situation in Belarus, including negotiation processes with the European Union and the United States, the increasing size of external debt and pressure on the part of Russia as well as the approaching elections to the Belarusian parliament (scheduled for November 17, 2019) should be taken into account, too. 

    The 2nd Euro­pean Games were held in the cap­i­tal city of Min­sk on June 21–30, 2019. 
    On the eve of the inter­na­tion­al sport event, a human rights orga­ni­za­tion Human Rights Watch called upon the Olympic offi­cials to guar­an­tee safe­ty of jour­nal­ists in Min­sk: “Belaru­sian author­i­ties have car­ried out con­cert­ed attacks on media free­dom over the past two years that direct­ly affect the cli­mate in which news media will cov­er the coun­try before, dur­ing, and after the upcom­ing Euro­pean Games, Human Rights Watch said today. The Euro­pean Olympic Com­mit­tees (EOC) should ensure that all jour­nal­ists, for­eign and local, cov­er­ing the 2019 Euro­pean Games in Belarus can oper­ate free from harass­ment.” 

    Despite the fears of human rights activists and jour­nal­is­tic orga­ni­za­tions, none of seri­ous con­flicts relat­ed to the imple­men­ta­tion of jour­nal­is­tic activ­i­ties occured dur­ing the Euro­pean Games. More­over, the pres­sure on free­lance jour­nal­ists had decreased by the begin­ning of the inter­na­tion­al sport event. In par­tic­u­lar, such jour­nal­ists were fined 38 times on court deci­sions for coop­er­a­tion with for­eign mass media with­out press cre­den­tials with­in the peri­od since Jan­u­ary till the end of May 2019. How­ev­er, none of such cas­es have been reg­is­tered since May 31, 2019. 

    Nev­er­the­less, the total sum of fines, imposed on jour­nal­ists on arti­cle 22.9 part 2 of the Belaru­sian Code of Admin­is­tra­tive Offens­es totaled 35827.5 BYN that equals around USD 18,000. 

    Para­graph 2 of arti­cle 22.9 of the Code of Admin­is­tra­tive Offens­es envis­ages legal respon­si­bil­i­ty for the ille­gal pro­duc­tion and/or dis­sem­i­na­tion of media prod­ucts. Accord­ing to BAJ, jour­nal­ists can­not be pre­sent­ed the charges, since edi­to­ri­als pro­duce mass media pro­duc­tion and press dis­trib­u­tors dis­sem­i­nate it. More­over, the charges vio­late inter­na­tion­al oblig­a­tions of Belarus in the field of free­dom of expres­sion.

    In most cas­es, the offi­cial author­i­ties pros­e­cute the jour­nal­ists, coop­er­at­ing with Bel­sat TV chan­nel. Being an inte­gral part of Pol­ish TV, the TV broad­cast­er is pro­mot­ed as the first inde­pen­dent TV chan­nel of Belarus.

    The prob­lem of pros­e­cu­tion of free­lance jour­nal­ists on admin­is­tra­tive charges has been includ­ed into the agen­da of the Dia­logue on Human Rights between the EU and Belarus since sev­er­al years. 

    Crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion of jour­nal­ists and blog­gers on dif­fer­ent grounds was among the main prob­lems in the field of free­dom of expres­sion in Belarus in the first half-year 2019. 



    The guilty verdict in relation to TUT.BY Chief Editor Maryna Zolatava and completion of ‘BelTA case’

    On March 4, 2019, the Zavod­s­ki City Dis­trict court of Min­sk found the edi­tor-in-chief of the lead­ing Belaru­sian Inter­net por­tal TUT.BY Mary­na Zola­to­va guilty of inac­tion as an offi­cial (Arti­cle 425 of the Crim­i­nal Code of Belarus) and sen­tenced her to a fine of 7 650 Belaru­sian rubles (about $ 3,800 at the rate of the Nation­al Bank of Belarus). More­over, the court urged her to cov­er the pro­ce­dur­al costs of BelTA, con­nect­ed with the lit­i­ga­tion, in the amount of 6 000 Belaru­sian rubles (about $3,000).  

    M. Zolatava’s con­vic­tion com­plet­ed the so-called ‘BelTA case’, which had been filed in the sum­mer of 2018.

    The case ini­ti­a­tion was caused by the unsanc­tioned use of pass­words to the news string of BelTA state news agency by some jour­nal­ists. (The BelTA mate­ri­als could be accessed on the Web-site of the agency free of charge at that. The per­se­cut­ed mass media pub­lished the mate­ri­als in ques­tion with due con­sid­er­a­tion of BelTA rules. The pass­words to the News String weren’t changed by BelTA for years.)

    The edi­to­r­i­al offices of Bela­PAN News Agency, TUT.BY Web-por­tal and a num­ber of oth­er media as well as pri­vate apart­ments of some jour­nal­ists, employed by the media, were sub­ject­ed to search­es on August 7–9, 2018. 

    Pro­fes­sion­al tech­ni­cal equip­ment and infor­ma­tion car­ri­ers were seized dur­ing the search­es. Around 20 jour­nal­ists were detained and inter­ro­gat­ed by legal inves­ti­ga­tors. Eight of them were sent to cus­tody for the peri­od of up to three days. Crim­i­nal cas­es were filed in rela­tion to 15 jour­nal­ists on the charges, envis­aged by arti­cle 349 part 2 of the Crim­i­nal Code of Belarus (‘the unau­tho­rized access to com­put­er infor­ma­tion, com­mit­ted out of mer­ce­nary or oth­er per­son­al inter­est.)

    The legal inves­ti­ga­tors’ actions evoked protests on the part of human rights defend­ers, jour­nal­ist orga­ni­za­tions and inter­na­tion­al bod­ies, includ­ing the Coun­cil of Europe, the Euro­pean Union, and OSCE.

    The crim­i­nal cas­es against 14 jour­nal­ists were ter­mi­nat­ed at the end of 2018. The media work­ers were brought to admin­is­tra­tive respon­si­bil­i­ty in the form of large fines and actu­al com­pul­sion to pay com­pen­sa­tion to BelTA and the “SB. Belarus today” news­pa­per, pub­lished by the Pres­i­den­tial Admin­is­tra­tion.

    The TUT.BY Chief Edi­tor Mary­na Zolata­va appeared to be the only con­vict­ed per­son on the ‘BelTA case’, who was brought to crim­i­nal respon­si­bil­i­ty. 

    “Con­vic­tion & fin­ing of Mari­na Zolo­to­va, edi­tor of TUT.BY, along with dis­pro­por­tion­ate mea­sures of law enforce­ment against Bela­PAN & TUT.BY agen­cies in 2018, may exert chill­ing effect on inde­pen­dent media in Belarus”, not­ed Harlem Désir, OSCE Rep­re­sen­ta­tive on Free­dom of the Media.

    “The way the author­i­ties per­sist­ed with this case, which was out of all pro­por­tion from the out­set, shows their deter­mi­na­tion to under­mine the state media’s rivals”, not­ed ‘Reporters with­out bor­ders’ react­ing to the court ver­dict in rela­tion to M. Zolata­va.

    The Chair­per­son of the Supreme Court of Belarus Valiantsin Sukala not­ed that the increased pub­lic atten­tion to the tri­al against Zolata­va, includ­ing the pres­ence of diplo­mats and reporters, could be regard­ed as indi­rect pres­sure on the court.

    The case of blogger Andrei Pauk

    On March 20, the Inves­tiga­tive Com­mit­tee of Belarus used its offi­cial Telegram chan­nel to announce the ini­ti­a­tion of a crim­i­nal case under arti­cle 340 part 1 of the Crim­i­nal Code of Belarus on the fact of a delib­er­ate­ly false report of min­ing a dis­trict exec­u­tive com­mit­tee in the urban set­tle­ment of Akt­siabrs­ki. A local blog­ger Andrei Pauk was pre­sent­ed as the sus­pect in the case, since his mobile phone num­ber was indi­cat­ed in the mes­sage about the min­ing.

    A.Pauk was detained on March 20, 2019. His house was searched and his com­put­er and oth­er pro­fes­sion­al equip­ment were seized. Accord­ing to legal inves­ti­ga­tors, A. Pauk sent an email to the Homiel Region­al Branch of the Min­istry of Emer­gency Sit­u­a­tions with a mes­sage about the min­ing of the Akt­siabrs­ki Dis­trict Exec­u­tive Com­mit­tee, which is the local gov­ern­men­tal author­i­ty. A.Pauk was released after the inter­ro­ga­tion pro­ce­dure. The crim­i­nal case in rela­tion to him was ter­mi­nat­ed and all tech­ni­cal equip­ment was returned to him one month lat­er.

    The sto­ry with false min­ing repeat­ed in May 2019. An e‑mail mes­sage about the ‘min­ing’ of the court build­ing in the city of Mazyr was received by the Min­istry of Emer­gency Sit­u­a­tions. A.Pauk was con­sid­ered as the sus­pect on the case, since his mobile phone num­ber was men­tioned in the mes­sage. 

     A.Pauk appealed to the Office of Legal Inves­ti­ga­tion Com­mit­tee and the Pros­e­cu­tor Gen­er­al with a request to find the per­son, who makes use of his per­son­al data to dis­sem­i­nate false mes­sages about the ‘min­ing’ of gov­ern­men­tal insti­tu­tions. 

    Andrei Pauk is a famous Belaru­sian video blog­ger. He runs the ‘Rud­abel­skaya Pakazukha’ blog in the social media, where he crit­i­cizes the local author­i­ties. 

    Search on Libel Case in Con­nec­tion with Pub­li­ca­tion on the Web-site of ‘Bel­sat’

    On April 9, 2019, the rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Min­sk Legal Inves­ti­ga­tion Depart­ment con­duct­ed a search in the premis­es, which are used for their work by the Belaru­sian team of ‘Bel­sat’ satel­lite TV chan­nel. Accord­ing to the Legal Inves­tiga­tive Com­mit­tee, the search was car­ried out in the frame­work of a crim­i­nal case, filed on the fact of libel (part 2 of arti­cle 188 of the Crim­i­nal Code of Belarus) on the web­site of ‘Bel­sat’ TV chan­nel. The ‘Bel­sat’ man­age­ment explained that the rea­son for the ini­ti­a­tion of the case was a tech­ni­cal error in a Web-arti­cle on the alleged cor­rup­tion in 2018. Andrei Shved, the chair­man of the State Com­mit­tee of Judi­cial Exper­tise, was mis­tak­en­ly men­tioned there.

    “We quick­ly set the record straight, pub­lished a refu­ta­tion and offered our apolo­gies to Gen­er­al Andrei Shved whom the mis­take con­cerned. The Inves­tiga­tive Com­mit­tee ran a check and found no grounds for crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion found. How­ev­er, in Jan­u­ary 2018, the Prosecutor’s Office launched a crim­i­nal case over the same sit­u­a­tion”, not­ed the ‘Bel­sat’ man­age­ment.

    Fol­low­ing the four-hour-long search, the legal inves­ti­ga­tors seized around 10 infor­ma­tion car­ri­ers, includ­ing three lap­tops and two hard dri­ves. 

    The Legal Inves­ti­ga­tion Com­mit­tee returned the pre­vi­ous­ly seized tech­ni­cal equip­ment and infor­ma­tion car­ri­ers to the ‘Bel­sat’ rep­re­sen­ta­tives two days lat­er, on April 11, 2019.  


    Criminal Conviction of Blogger Siarhei Piatrukhin 

    The Lenin­s­ki City Disc­trict Court of Brest found a blog­ger Siarhei Pia­trukhin guilty under Art. 188, part 2 (“Slan­der”) and arti­cle 189, part 2 (“Insult”) of the Crim­i­nal Code of Belarus on April 18, 2019.

    Four offi­cers of the Lenin­sky City Dis­trict Police Depart­ment of Brest were regard­ed as vic­tims in the case. The court imposed a fine on S. Pia­trukhin in the amount of 360 basic units (9 180 BYN that equals approx. USD 4,600). Also, the judge urged the blog­ger to cov­er moral dam­ages to the police offi­cers Siarhei Ihnat­siuk, Dzmit­ry Yaku­she­vich, Ihar Haliantsich, and Siarhei Tokun in the total sum of 7 500 BYN that equals approx. USD 3,750. More­over, the blog­ger was oblig­ed to cov­er the fees, which had been paid by the vic­tims to their attor­neys and the court in the amount of 1 000 BYN. 

    The crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion against the blog­ger was rea­soned by the video footage, which had been pro­duced in March 2018 and pre­sent­ed on YouTube. S. Pia­trukhin stat­ed in the videos that a num­ber of offi­cers from Lenin­s­ki City Dis­trict Police Depart­ment had rela­tion to a phys­i­cal attack on a cit­i­zen P. Kamin­s­ki, who appealed to law-enforce­ment bod­ies with a demand to inves­ti­gate the inci­dent and told the blog­ger about it. 

    14 Belaru­sian human rights orga­ni­za­tions issued a demand before the tri­al start to ter­mi­nate the crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion in rela­tion to S.Piatrukhin. Accord­ing to them, the per­se­cu­tion was polit­i­cal­ly moti­vat­ed and asso­ci­at­ed exclu­sive­ly with imple­men­ta­tion of his con­sti­tu­tion­al rights and inter­na­tion­al norms in the field of human rights and lib­er­ties, includ­ing the free­dom of expres­sion as well as the free­dom to col­lect and dis­sem­i­nate infor­ma­tion. On July 5, 2019, the Judi­cial Pan­el on Crim­i­nal Cas­es at Brest Region­al Court upheld the deci­sion of the first instance court with­out changes.


    Belarus held the 153rd posi­tion among 180 states of the world in the annu­al 2019 World Press Free­dom Index, pub­lished by the inter­na­tion­al orga­ni­za­tion ‘Reporters with­out Bor­ders’ in April 2019. This year, the coun­try man­aged to climb two posi­tions high­er in com­par­i­son with the pre­vi­ous year. 

    Belarus’s posi­tion in the 2019 World Press free­dom Index seems to sug­gest an improve­ment but, in real­i­ty, it reflects the fact that the sit­u­a­tion has wors­ened dra­mat­i­cal­ly in so many oth­er coun­tries, as well as the fact that the record num­ber of arrests in Belarus in 2017 was not repeat­ed in 2018.”
    As before, the inter­na­tion­al human rights orga­ni­za­tion Free­dom House con­tin­ued to clas­si­fy the Repub­lic of Belarus as a non-free, but not the worst case coun­try in its annu­al Free­dom in the World 2019 rat­ing list. How­ev­er, accord­ing to the Free­dom House experts’ con­clu­sions, the degree of mass media free­dom in Belarus shrank to the min­i­mum lev­el in 2018. 

    The score declined from 1 to 0 due to a crack­down on jour­nal­ists that includ­ed new restric­tions on online media, a crim­i­nal case against jour­nal­ists accused of ille­gal­ly obtain­ing con­tent from the state news agency, and the fre­quent deten­tion and issu­ing of fines against reporters in con­nec­tion with their work”.

    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