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  • Mass Media Week in Belarus Info-posting January 12 – 25, 2015

    The first month of the year went on with one more fine to a journalist for contribution to foreign mass media without accreditation; also, several journalists’ complaints were dismissed; a blogger was fined for insulting an official on duty; and the Supreme Court upheld the warning issued by the Information Ministry to the independent newspaper Narodnaya Volya.

    On Jan­u­ary 13, the Lenin dis­trict court of Brest found jour­nal­ist Ali­na Litvinchuk guilty of vio­lat­ing art. 22.9 (ille­gal pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­b­u­tion of prod­ucts of mass media): she vio­lat­ed the law by mak­ing a pub­li­ca­tion about the local depart­ment of youth Chris­t­ian orga­ni­za­tion YMCA. The arti­cle was pub­lished on the Belaru­sian Radio Racy­ja.

    The jour­nal­ist refused to tes­ti­fy against her­self. Judge Svi­ataslau Kali­na heard the wit­ness Ali­ak­san­dr Dra­chuk, rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the YMCA, con­firm­ing the iden­ti­ty of the jour­nal­ist.

    The judge did not even leave for the con­sul­ta­tion room and read out the ready-made judi­cial rul­ing: she was fined 30 basic amounts (5 400 000 rubles). Ali­na Litvinchuk said her con­sti­tu­tion­al rights were vio­lat­ed and she would appeal against the deci­sion.

    On Jan­u­ary 13 the Per­shamays­ki dis­trict court of Min­sk dis­missed the appeal of human rights activist Ele­na Tonkache­va against the police’s deci­sion to deport her and ban entry to Belarus for three years.

    We remind that on Novem­ber 5 the depart­ment on cit­i­zen­ship and migra­tion annulled Ele­na Tonkacheva’s res­i­dence per­mit and ordered to leave the coun­try with­in a month. The grounds for the deci­sion were minor speed lim­it vio­la­tions, reg­is­tered by video cam­eras.

    Ele­na Tonkache­va tried to dis­pute the deci­sion in the chief police depart­ment of the Min­sk City Exec­u­tive Com­mit­tee and then in court. Ele­na Tonkache­va has lived in Belarus for 30 years. She runs the Legal Trans­for­ma­tion Cen­ter (Lawtrend), an NGO deal­ing with free­dom of asso­ci­a­tion and free­dom of assem­bly, access to infor­ma­tion for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties, and people’s access to infor­ma­tion of state bod­ies.

    Judge Natal­lia Petukh con­sid­ered the case in three hear­ings. The police insist­ed that Tonkache­va drove a car which was a source of increased dan­ger, so, vio­lat­ing the speed lim­it, she cre­at­ed threat to pub­lic safe­ty, might have caused injuries or deaths. In her turn, Ele­na Tonkache­va remarked that the law enforce­ment agen­cies did not present evi­dence that it was her who drove the car at the moments of vio­la­tions; she pre­sent­ed proofs she had shared the car with her friend and a col­league. She also under­lined that she had a daugh­ter, of Belaru­sian cit­i­zen­ship, a job, and pri­vate prop­er­ty in Belarus, and nowhere else.

    Before the tri­al, 7000 sig­na­tures were col­lect­ed under elec­tron­ic peti­tions not to expel her from the coun­try. There were also 700 writ­ten peti­tions in her defense. Civ­il soci­ety rep­re­sen­ta­tives con­sid­er the actions dis­pro­por­tion­ate and treat it as per­se­cu­tion for human rights activ­i­ties.

    On Jan­u­ary 14, the jour­nal­ist from Brest Ales Liauchuk received a reply from the Brest prosecutor’s office. The jour­nal­ist want­ed to ini­ti­ate a check-up into pro­ce­dur­al vio­la­tions that the police had made while draft­ing an admin­is­tra­tive report against him under art. 22.9, part 2. The report was tak­en as grounds to fine him for work with­out accred­i­ta­tion on Bel­sat. As fol­lows from the reply, signed by Ivan Chay­chyts, prosecutor’s deputy, the prosecutor’s office dis­missed the com­plaint.

    On Jan­u­ary 15, BAJ received a reply from the Gen­er­al Prosecutor’s office regard­ing trou­bles with access to sev­er­al web­sites at the end of Decem­ber.

    We remind that on Decem­ber 22 BAJ request­ed infor­ma­tion from the Gen­er­al Prosecutor’s office, the depart­ment on IT crimes of the Min­istry of Home Affairs, the Oper­a­tive Ana­lyt­i­cal Cen­ter. Web­sites naviny.by, charter97.org, udf.by, gazetaby.com and some oth­ers had expe­ri­enced trou­bles with access since Decem­ber 19. BAJ request­ed to hold an inquiry, restore access and bring trou­ble-mak­ers to respon­si­bil­i­ty.

    The Gen­er­al prosecutor’s office said it was not involved in the mat­ter, did not know any­thing about deci­sions to block the web­sites from oth­er state bodes, and redi­rect­ed BAJ’s request to the Min­istry of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Informa­ti­za­tion.

    On Jan­u­ary 16 the Kas­trych­nit­s­ki dis­trict court of Mahilou heard the suit of the inde­pen­dent news­pa­per Novy Chas against a secu­ri­ty offi­cer of a shop Dzmit­ry Prokha­rau. The news­pa­per sued the guard for that he had offend­ed an indi­vid­ual dis­trib­u­tor of the news­pa­per Vik­tar Char­avukhin: the dis­trib­u­tor said the guard had called him a fas­cist. The defen­dant did not plead guilty, say­ing he did not call the dis­trib­u­tor a fas­cist. Mean­time, he admit­ted he con­sid­ered the news­pa­per to be fas­cist, Nazi and nation­al­ist. The judge ruled the guard would not be brought to admin­is­tra­tive lia­bil­i­ty because his guilt had not been proved.

    On Jan­u­ary 19 by the Kas­trych­nit­s­ki dis­trict court of Min­sk heard the case filed by a police­man against a blog­ger. Ale­na Sto­ha­va was fined for 3 600 000 rubles (around 250USD) for insult­ing the police offi­cer in a blog, under charges “insult­ing an offi­cial while on duty”.

    The police officeer did not allow the woman to enter the sub­way because she was drunk. The dis­ap­point­ed blog­ger lat­er wrote a blog using words “men­ty”, “men­tovskaya strana” (infor­mal word for police­man, has slight­ly derog­a­tive mean­ing, but is wide­ly used by pop­u­la­tion and in the movies), “I hate you with all my soul”. The blog went viral, and the sub­way employ­ees decid­ed to pub­lish the video com­pi­la­tion of the blogger’s behav­ior.

    The police offi­cer filed a law­suit, stat­ing he had been insult­ed. The main argu­ment was that she had tak­en a pho­to of him and pub­lished in the blog, too, so all the words were addressed to him per­son­al­ly.

    It has become quite com­mon recent­ly to bring peo­ple to admin­is­tra­tive lia­bil­i­ty for defama­tion and insult on the Inter­net. In July 2013, a man was fined for insult­ing a police offi­cer in neg­a­tive com­ments on TUT.by por­tal. The same year, anoth­er fine was imposed on a young man who had used unpleas­ant com­ments against his exam­in­er at the traf­fic police. In Novem­ber 2013, a judge was offend­ed by online com­ments, for which the offend­er paid a pret­ty large fine.

    As for crim­i­nal cas­es, there have been two of the kind – against Andzej Poc­zobut, who had become famous also by con­vic­tion for defam­ing the pres­i­dent of Belarus in 2011, and against Aleh Zhal­nou, a blog­ger from Babruysk.

    Although, ordi­nary cit­i­zens usu­al­ly lose in media-relat­ed insult cas­es. The jour­nal­ist from Brest had her appeal turned down by the Supreme Court; courts con­sid­ered that the words “pig­gy” and “ungift­ed fool­ish young peo­ple” were quite OK and these were somebody’s opin­ions that can exist. At the end of 2014, activists from Mahilou request­ed the police to find own­ers of a defam­a­to­ry web­site obvi­ous­ly aimed at dis­cred­it­ing polit­i­cal and civ­il activists of the region. The police replied the web­site was reg­is­tered abroad so they were help­less here, and rec­om­mend­ed try­ing courts of the coun­try (or coun­tries) where the web­site was locat­ed.

    On Jan­u­ary 19, the Min­sk city court dis­missed the com­plaint filed by Vik­tar Parfio­nen­ka who has tried for years to get accred­it­ed as a jour­nal­ist of Radio Racy­ja, but the MFA denies accred­i­ta­tion.

    Vik­tar Parfio­nen­ka sev­en times has applied for accred­i­ta­tion as a jour­nal­ist of the Belaru­sian Radio Racy­ja, broad­cast­ing from Poland for Belaru­sian audi­ence; last time he applied on May 23 and got refusal with ref­er­ence to the Law on Mass Media and the Rul­ing on the pro­ce­dure of accred­i­ta­tion of jour­nal­ists of for­eign mass media in Belarus. The jour­nal­ist filed the com­plaint to the Lenin dis­trict court of Min­sk (this is the dis­trict where the MFA is locat­ed). The court (judge Iry­na Brol­ishs) dis­missed the com­plaint with­out con­sid­er­a­tion. The jour­nal­ist appealed to the Min­sk city court, but the appeal was dis­missed, too.

    The jour­nal­ist drew par­al­lel with the case of Mary­na Kok­tysh whose right to accred­i­ta­tion and Belarus’s oblig­a­tion to issue the accred­i­ta­tion has been reaf­firmed by the deci­sion of the UN HRC. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, nei­ther Parfionenka’s claims nor the prece­dent of Mary­na Kok­tysh influ­enced the deci­sion of the judges’ pan­el of the Min­sk city court. Now the jour­nal­ist plans to appeal to the Supreme Court and to the UN HRC.

    On Jan­u­ary 21, the Mahilou Region­al Court dis­missed the cas­sa­tion appeal of the inde­pen­dent news­pa­per Vol­ny Horad (Krychau). The news­pa­per asked to over­rule the deci­sion of the Krychau dis­trict court dat­ed Decem­ber 8, 2014, which found that the news­pa­per inflict­ed dam­age to hon­or, dig­ni­ty and busi­ness rep­u­ta­tion to Mary­na Max­i­ma­va, head of the ide­o­log­i­cal depart­ment of the dis­trict exec­u­tive com­mit­tee. The edi­tor was fined 7 mil­lion rubles to the ben­e­fit of the ide­ol­o­gist. The chief edi­tor Siarhei Niarouny said he would file a super­vi­so­ry appeal.

    On Jan­u­ary 21, the Lenin dis­trict court of Mahilou dis­missed the com­plaint of Uladz­imir Lapce­vich, a jour­nal­ist of the infor­ma­tion­al agency Bela­PAN, against actions of offi­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Mahilou Region­al Coun­cil. The jour­nal­ist was not allowed to fol­low a ses­sion of the Coun­cil. In court, he argued that jour­nal­ists, and even ordi­nary cit­i­zens, have the right to attend open ses­sions of rep­re­sen­ta­tives’ bod­ies. The chief spe­cial­ist Yauhen Nalchau claimed that jour­nal­ists have to apply for an invi­ta­tion to cov­er ses­sions in the Coun­cil.

    On Jan­u­ary 22, cor­re­spon­dents of the Ukrain­ian TV chan­nel 1+1 were stopped on the Belaru­sian bor­der; they were com­ing to cov­er the anniver­sary of the death of Mikhail Zhyzneus­ki, Euro­ma­j­dan activist; ques­tions occurred if the jour­nal­ists were allowed to enter Belarus.

    Two jour­nal­ists were going to cov­er the remem­brance day in the vil­lage Znamya, Homel region, where the activist was buried. Accord­ing to Marich­ka Padalko, cor­re­spon­dent of 1+1, Belaru­sian bor­der guards had ques­tions to jour­nal­ist Valenti­na Dobro­ta. She was banned entry to Rus­sia, that’s why Belaru­sian bor­der guards doubt­ed if she was allowed to enter Belarus; although she had been accred­it­ed by the Belaru­sian For­eign Affairs Min­istry.

    The ques­tions of accred­i­ta­tion were clar­i­fied, and three hours lat­er, the team was set free and allowed to move on.

    On Jan­u­ary 23, the Brest Region­al Court dis­missed the cas­sa­tion appeals of Tama­ra Scha­pi­otk­i­na from Biaroza and of Ales Liauchuk from Brest. Both of them had been fined: Tama­ra Shcha­pi­otk­i­na on Decem­ber 17, for 30 basic amounts, and Ales Liauchuk on Decem­ber 24, for 40 basic amounts. The charges are sim­i­lar: arti­cle 22.9, part 2 – for work for for­eign mass media with­out accred­i­ta­tion.

    On Jan­u­ary 22, the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion report­ed it had restrict­ed access to two infor­ma­tion­al resources that “con­tained vul­gar and tabooed vocab­u­lary and were able to inflict harm to inter­ests of the Repub­lic of Belarus.” Lat­er jour­nal­ists found out what the web­sites were: two trash web­sites with domain names yahooeu.by, yah.by that were reg­is­tered for a phys­i­cal per­son and were not ful­ly func­tion­al infor­ma­tion­al resources.

    On Jan­u­ary 22, in Min­sk Bel­sat TV reporters were pre­vent­ed from mak­ing a report about the com­mem­o­ra­tion action near the mon­u­ment of Taras Shevchenko in the mem­o­ry of Nebesnaya Sot­nya of Euro­ma­j­dan. Before the action, peo­ple in plain clothes came up and claimed the cam­era­man was not allowed to film because Bel­sat was not accred­it­ed. The reporter was dragged away from the venue.

    On Jan­u­ary 23, the Supreme Court of Min­sk dis­missed the appeal of the non-state news­pa­per Nar­o­d­naya Volya against the warn­ing that the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion had issued to the out­let last autumn.

    The warn­ing con­cerned the arti­cle by Svi­at­lana Kalink­i­na dat­ed Octo­ber 2, 2014 (full text in the archive). The pub­li­ca­tion was the author’s opin­ion on rat­i­fi­ca­tion by Belarus of the treaty on set­ting up the Eurasian Eco­nom­ic Com­mu­ni­ty. The first hear­ing of the appeal took place on Jan­u­ary 14 when both sides were able to voice their stand­ings.

    The Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion was rep­re­sent­ed by Yuliya Kochy­na, head of mass media reg­is­tra­tion sec­tion, and Vik­to­ry­ja Mialesh­ka, head of the legal and HR depart­ment.

    They pre­sent­ed a con­clu­sion on the EurAsEc, made upon their request by the Min­istry of For­eign Affairs. They under­lined that the Min­istry thought that the arti­cle by Svi­at­lana Kialink­i­na not only inflict­ed harm to state and pub­lic inter­ests, but also dis­cred­it­ed the for­eign pol­i­cy of Belaru­sian state. The newspaper’s rep­re­sen­ta­tives argued that the pub­li­ca­tion con­tained no untrue infor­ma­tion, and the arti­cle was just an opin­ion. Judge Ale­na Kas­tra­ma left the warn­ing in force. The edi­to­r­i­al office was going to file a cas­sa­tion appeal to the Pan­el of Judges of the Supreme Court.

    Nar­o­d­naya Volya is a lead­ing print inde­pen­dent news­pa­per with cir­cu­la­tion of 27 000 copies, pub­lished two times a week. It has had trou­bles with print­ing and dis­tri­b­u­tion of print news­pa­per, its jour­nal­ists endured search­es and seizures of equip­ment. In 2011, the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion sued to close the news­pa­per in the Supreme Court, but the case was dis­missed (two warn­ings may become grounds for clo­sure, more about it on Wikipedia). In 2014 its jour­nal­ist Mary­na Kok­tysh won a case with the UN HRC decid­ing Belarus vio­lat­ed the journalist’s right to seek and impart infor­ma­tion.

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