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  • Mass Media Week in Belarus Info-posting February 16 – March 1, 2015

    Law enforcement agencies keep following work of independent journalists contributing to foreign mass media. Besides, a new trend appeared: the Ministry of Information started issuing warnings to independent regional newspapers for minor insufficiencies in publishing data. Editors consider it to be a renewed approach aimed to place newspapers in vulnerable position before the forthcoming presidential elections.

    As became known on Feb­ru­ary 18, polit­i­cal pris­on­er Yauhen Vaskovich, after hav­ing a long-term meet­ing with his moth­er in Mahilou colony No15 (Feb­ru­ary 15 – 16) was banned to take along with him legal texts, like the Crim­i­nal Code and the Code of Crim­i­nal Pro­ce­dures. The colony guards did not explain why the texts were banned for him.

    On Feb­ru­ary 19, the pan­el on civ­il cas­es of the Min­sk City Court dis­missed the appeal of the human rights defend­er Ele­na Tonkache­va. We remind that the depart­ment on cit­i­zen­ship and migra­tion annulled her res­i­dence per­mit and ordered to leave Belarus with­in a month. After the deci­sion of the Min­sk City Court, the deci­sion came into legal force. She had to leave the coun­try before Feb­ru­ary 21, with the ban to enter the coun­try for three years.

    On Feb­ru­ary 20, the pho­tog­ra­ph­er for Nasha Niva Siarhei Hudzilin was detained in Min­sk. He was detained togeth­er with activists who were stick­ing out plac­ards ded­i­cat­ed to the Moth­er tongue Day. The jour­nal­ist was set free three hours lat­er with­out pro­ce­dur­al reports.

    On Feb­ru­ary 20, the Barysau dis­trict court held the first hear­ing into the case to defend busi­ness rep­u­ta­tion filed by a nurse against the inde­pen­dent news­pa­per Borisovskiye Novosti. The grounds for the suit was the arti­cle Who is guilty of death of a patient in the 2nd poly­clin­ique? pub­lished on Decem­ber 24, 2014. The arti­cle was a let­ter of a read­er whose hus­band died after vis­it­ing the clin­ique. The same arti­cle also had an answer of the doc­tor-in-chief of the clin­ique stat­ing that a check-up found no con­fir­ma­tion to the facts alleged by the woman.

    The plain­tiff, a nurse of the clin­ique, demands refu­ta­tion and 50 mil­lion rubles of moral com­pen­sa­tion. The defen­dants are the chief edi­tor of the news­pa­per and the read­er, author of the let­ter. The next hear­ing is sched­uled for March 11.

    On Feb­ru­ary 23 Siarhei Niarouny, the edi­tor of the low-cir­cu­la­tion news­pa­per Vol­ny Horad, report­ed that the Min­istry on Tax­es and Duties demand­ed that he file a tax dec­la­ra­tion for 2011 – 2014 as late as Feb­ru­ary 24. The edi­tor thinks the author­i­ties would want to press on the inde­pen­dent out­let to silence the too crit­i­cal view of the local ver­ti­cal. Last time the Min­istry on Tax­es dis­turbed the edi­tor in 2011. The news­pa­per Vol­ny Horad has been pub­lished since 2009, with cir­cu­la­tion less than 300 copies, because the edi­tor is denied the reg­is­tra­tion of the mass medi­um, although it is quite pop­u­lar in Mahilou region.

    On Feb­ru­ary 24 BAJ mem­ber Pavel Seviarynets received a reply from the Hrod­na cus­toms office stat­ing that none of the books seized from him ear­li­er had any signs of extrem­ism.

    On Octo­ber 13, 2014 the cus­toms office seized 20 books by Zianon Paz­ni­ak, includ­ing “Hard time – con­tin­u­a­tion”, “Inde­pen­dence of Belarus. 20 years”, “Dec­la­ra­tion – the first step to inde­pen­dence”, “Men­sk city coun­cil in the peri­od of the nation­al rev­o­lu­tion (1990 – 1991)”, “Ter­ra Dei”, “Par­si­val”, “Med­i­ta­tions” etc.

    On Feb­ru­ary 25 a civ­il activist from Hrod­na Pavel Sev­as­t­ian also received a let­ter from the Hrod­na region cus­toms office stat­ing there were no signs of extrem­ism in the books seized from the activist on July 27 on the Belaru­sian-Pol­ish bor­der (these were news­pa­pers, mag­a­zines about polit­i­cal pris­on­ers, and a Belaru­sian-Pol­ish dic­tio­nary).

    On Feb­ru­ary 25, the Nation­al legal por­tal pub­lished the rul­ing of the Oper­a­tive Ana­lyt­i­cal Cen­ter intro­duced Rul­ing No6/8 dat­ed Feb­ru­ary 19, estab­lish­ing the pro­ce­dure of restrict­ing access to web­sites of mass media. The rul­ing envis­ages pro­ce­dures on how to restrict or unblock web­sites.

    Now not only a state body, but also any cit­i­zen will be able to sub­mit requests to enter any web­site into the black list. The lawyer and deputy chair of BAJ Andrei Bas­tunets draws atten­tion that the pro­ce­dures are all extra-judi­cial, and the rul­ing does not envis­age an appeal to court against the deci­sion to block a web­site. Also, the rul­ing envis­ages block­ing anonymiz­ers. The lawyer under­lines how dif­fer­ent the terms are for restrict­ing a web­site and lift­ing the ban. “The restric­tion can be applied with­in three days or even 24 hours (this is the time giv­en for a provider to block a web­site). As for restora­tion of access to the web­site, the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion has a whole month to con­sid­er the request. It illus­trates vivid­ly the approach to reg­u­la­tion of the issue.”

    As became known on Feb­ru­ary 25, Belaru­sian author­i­ties denied entry visa to David Craw­ford, a cor­re­spon­dent of The Wall Street Jour­nal Europe. The jour­nal­ist was going to take part in a lec­ture of the Press Club Belarus. The top­ic of the lec­ture and a sem­i­nar was jour­nal­is­tic inves­ti­ga­tion and work of Berlin-based CORRECT!V, among all their par­tic­i­pa­tion in inves­ti­ga­tion of the shoot­ing down of the Malaysian plane over Ukraine last sum­mer.

    As report­ed on Feb­ru­ary 25, sev­er­al region­al news­pa­pers received warn­ings from the Infor­ma­tion Min­istry for minor insuf­fi­cien­cies. Haze­ta Slonim­skaya received the warn­ing for miss­ing fig­ures of cir­cu­la­tion in the pub­li­ca­tion data of two Feb­ru­ary issues. Mean­time, as seen from the PDF, the cir­cu­la­tion num­ber was pre­sent­ed on the first page of the news­pa­per, how­ev­er, it was real­ly miss­ing from the pub­li­ca­tion data usu­al­ly sit­u­at­ed at the bot­tom of the last page.

    The news­pa­per Hantsav­it­s­ki Chas and Intex-press (in Baranavichy) were warned for cut­ting the name the Repub­lic of Belarus to abbre­vi­a­tion RB in the pub­li­ca­tion data.

    “We will sure­ly appeal against the warn­ing, at least because we had no issue on the day that the warn­ing men­tions. Sec­ond­ly, some state out­lets fail to men­tion not only the Repub­lic of Belarus, but also the Infor­ma­tion Min­istry in their pub­li­ca­tion data,” said Piotr Huza­yeus­ki, chief edi­tor of the news­pa­per.

    Note that two warn­ings with­in a year give grounds for the Infor­ma­tion Min­istry to ini­ti­ate court pro­ceed­ings to close down a mass medi­um.

    On Feb­ru­ary 25 BAJ mem­ber and lawyer from Homel Leanid Sudalen­ka filed a request to the police of the city exec­u­tive com­mit­tee ask­ing to iden­ti­fy the legal or phys­i­cal per­son admin­is­ter­ing the web­site gomelbest.com. The lawyer says he was sub­ject to threats and phys­i­o­log­i­cal pres­sure in an arti­cle on the web­site dat­ed Feb­ru­ary 20 and named Stars for a human rights defend­er. He says the arti­cle was aimed to threat­en him, includ­ing threat to the safe­ty of his chil­dren, and such actions fall under art. 186 of the Crim­i­nal Code (threat with mur­der). He asks to hold an inquiry and bring the author to respon­si­bil­i­ty.

    On Feb­ru­ary 26 a pho­to­jour­nal­ist of Kom­so­mol­skaya Prav­da v Belarusi Dzmit­ry Lasko want­ed to take a pho­to of the Acad­e­my of Sci­ences in the evening, but was detained at 8 pm, and spent around 4 hours at the police depart­ment while the offi­cers inspect­ed his ID, per­son­al belong­ings and infor­ma­tion car­ri­ers. The offi­cers referred to an inter­nal rul­ing issued by the Deputy Min­is­ter of Home Affairs enu­mer­at­ing pub­lic places that can be pho­tographed only with a spe­cial per­mit. Lat­er Kom­so­mol­ka found out that the rul­ing dat­ed Feb­ru­ary 25, 2015 list­ed rail­way sta­tions, air­planes, etc. as banned for pho­tographs. Inter­est­ing enough is that the doc­u­ment is inter­nal and will not be pub­lished.

    On Feb­ru­ary 26 Ali­na Litvinchuk, jour­nal­ist from Brest and mem­ber of BAJ, found out that she had been fined for the sec­ond time this year for work with­out accred­i­ta­tion. She learnt about the tri­al only when received the court deci­sion by post.

    The court rul­ing of Lenin dis­trict court of Brest, dat­ed Jan­u­ary 8, states that Ali­na Litvinchuk took an inter­view from the chair­per­son of the region­al Belaru­sian Peace Foun­da­tion; the inter­view was pub­lished on the Belaru­sian Radio Racy­ja, so Ali­na vio­lat­ed the Law on Mass Media by prepar­ing an ille­gal mass media prod­uct.

    Judge Ali­ak­san­dr Semi­anchuk found the jour­nal­ist guilty of admin­is­tra­tive vio­la­tion and fined to 40 basic amounts (which is 7.2 mil­lion rubles, or around 480 USD).

    The jour­nal­ist says the case has been a sur­prise because she had not been informed ether about the police’s report or about the tri­al. She will file an appeal soon. This has been the sec­ond fine for Ali­na Litvinchuk this year; on Jan­u­ary 13 she was fined to 30 basic amounts under the same charges (arti­cle 22.9 of the Code of Admin­is­tra­tive Vio­la­tions).

    Tama­ra Scha­pi­otk­i­na, from Biaroza town, Brest region, has been accused of work with­out accred­i­ta­tion for for­eign mass media. The grounds for pros­e­cu­tion was an inter­view with a traf­fic offi­cer made on Jan­u­ary 8 and lat­er pub­lished on the Radio Racy­ja. Alleged­ly, it was Tama­ra who had tak­en the inter­view.

    The case was sent to court, but on Feb­ru­ary 27, the Lenin dis­trict court of Brest sent the admin­is­tra­tive pro­to­col for com­ple­tion. Tama­ra Shcha­pi­otk­i­na was already fined on Decem­ber 17 for 30 basic amounts under sim­i­lar charges.

    On Feb­ru­ary 27, a police inspec­tor gave a vis­it to the jour­nal­ist, BAJ mem­ber from Brest Ina Khomich. Before that, she had had a phone call with invi­ta­tion to come to a talk, but she demand­ed an offi­cial sum­mons. The inspec­tor asked her about her trip to Motal town, Ivana­va dis­trict, on Feb­ru­ary 5. It turned out that Ivanaus­ki dis­trict police depart­ment start­ed a case involv­ing the jour­nal­ist. She was ques­tioned about where she had been to, who she had talked to, and if she was work­ing for the Pol­ish Radio Racy­ja.

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