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  • Mass Media Week in Belarus Info-posting January 26 – February 8, 2015

    Within the reporting period, two journalists were found guilty of participating in the street action which they covered; it became known how many informational materials were examined by the commission on extremism; and state agencies kept answering to BAJ what they thought about websites blocking in the last decade of December.

    As became known on Jan­u­ary 28, the jour­nal­ist from Homel Larysa Shchyrako­va and cam­era­man Kas­tus Zhuk­ous­ki were fined 900 000 rubles each under charges of vio­lat­ing the pro­ce­dure of hold­ing mass events (23.34 of the Admin­is­tra­tive Code).

    The admin­is­tra­tive case was heard in absen­tia by the Svet­la­horsk dis­trict court. The judi­cial rul­ings, dat­ed Jan­u­ary 23, were sent to the jour­nal­ist by post on Jan­u­ary 28.

    The case dealt with a pick­et staged on Novem­ber 25 in Svet­la­horsk: Yury Liashen­ka, who moves in a wheel chair, staged a one-man pick­et in front of the local exec­u­tive com­mit­tee, demand­ing to start cap­i­tal repair works of his house. Before he man­aged to unwrap the ban­ner, an ambu­lance appeared. He was force­ful­ly brought to a hos­pi­tal, where he was giv­en an injec­tion, and then the police drew up a report for vio­la­tion of hold­ing the pro­ce­dure of hold­ing mass events. He was fined for two basic amounts. The jour­nal­ists report­ed about the pick­et in the media.

    On Jan­u­ary 16, the jour­nal­ist was ques­tioned. Larysa Shchyrako­va con­firmed she had known about the pick­et before and came to Svet­la­horsk inten­tion­al­ly to report about the pick­et. She knew the pick­et had not been sanc­tioned by the local author­i­ties. She under­lined she did not take part in the pick­et, but only cov­ered it as a jour­nal­ist. She only helped the activist to get into the car, because he had trou­bles with his health. The jour­nal­ist says that the two-page rul­ing has been sent only on one page, so she sus­pects the mis­take was made inten­tion­al­ly for the jour­nal­ists to miss the dead­line for appeal.

    On Jan­u­ary 29, BAJ received replies from the Min­istry of Home Affairs and from the Oper­a­tive Ana­lyt­i­cal Cen­ter regard­ing trou­bles with access to sev­er­al web­sites at the end of Decem­ber.

    We remind that BAJ request­ed infor­ma­tion from the offi­cial agen­cies on Decem­ber 22; web­sites naviny.by, charter97.org, udf.by, gazetby.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 OAC replied that it did not take any actions to lim­it access to the web­sites men­tioned. Besides, oper­a­tors of data com­mu­ni­ca­tions net­work said they had not tak­en any such actions, either. Oper­a­tors claim that on Decem­ber 19 a mas­sive attack on data com­mu­ni­ca­tions was reg­is­tered, but defen­sive mea­sures did not influ­ence the web­sites’ acces­si­bil­i­ty.

    The depart­ment of inves­ti­ga­tions of IT crimes of the MFA replied that, accord­ing to infor­ma­tion pro­vid­ed by Bel­t­ele­com, there were no restric­tions on access to the men­tioned web­sites. The reply says tech­ni­cal resources of the web­sites are locat­ed in for­eign states, the USA, Ire­land and Rus­sia. The depart­ment found it impos­si­ble to estab­lish the rea­sons for the access trou­bles. The depart­ment informed that infor­ma­tion about block­ing, grounds for such actions can be obtained from the State inspec­tion on elec­tro com­mu­ni­ca­tions of the Min­istry of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Informa­ti­za­tion. The inquiry is over because “the events do not bear pub­lic dan­ger and do not con­tain con­stituents of admin­is­tra­tive vio­la­tions or crim­i­nal offence”.

    On Feb­ru­ary 10, the Supreme Court of Belarus heard the appeal of Lohv­in­au against the deci­sion to fine the book­store for “ille­gal entrepreneur’s activ­i­ties”.

    The absence of the reg­is­tra­tion as a dis­trib­u­tor of print prod­ucts in 2014 end­ed up with a tax inspec­tion at the end of the year. The tax inspec­tors sued Lohv­in­au in Eco­nom­ic Court, which ruled to fine the book­seller 30 basic amounts (5.4 mil­lion rubles) for work with­out reg­is­tra­tion and to con­fis­cate prof­its of the year which was claimed to be 961 mil­lion rubles.

    Lohv­in­au plead­ed for pub­lic help to raise the funds to com­pen­sate the fine and con­fis­ca­tion. The book­seller said the sum of mon­ey was not the prof­it, but the annu­al turnover, and the book­store would go bank­rupt, and he might face per­son­al crim­i­nal lia­bil­i­ty. The pub­lic and lit­er­ary com­mu­ni­ty are keep­ing a marathon of sol­i­dar­i­ty; almost fourth part of the fine has been col­lect­ed by now. The book­store keeps work under anoth­er legal enti­ty.

    Last year Lohv­in­au applied six times to get reg­is­tered as a dis­trib­u­tor of print prod­ucts (BAJ note – the oblig­a­tion to reg­is­ter as such was intro­duced with the new law on pub­lish­ers and dis­trib­u­tors of print prod­ucts enact­ed on Jan­u­ary 1, 2014; the reg­is­tra­tion should have been obtained with­in a year). The last of the refusals was due to incor­rect postal code indi­cat­ed in the appli­ca­tion form. Lohv­in­au tried to dis­pute the last refusal of reg­is­tra­tion of his book­store as a dis­trib­u­tor of print prod­ucts; how­ev­er, the Supreme Court sup­port­ed the stand­ing of the reg­is­ter­ing body. On Jan­u­ary 30, the Judge of the Supreme Court Ali­ak­san­dr Pau­tau sup­port­ed the Ministry’s point of view.

    Ear­li­er, in 2013 the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion ter­mi­nat­ed Lohvinau’s license as a pub­lish­er. The pre­text for the sanc­tion was deci­sion of Ash­mi­any dis­trict court that the pho­to album Belarus Press Pho­to 2011, pub­lished by Lohv­in­au, con­tained extrem­ist con­tents. The court deci­sion on the pho­to album was denounced by reporters’ pro­fes­sion­al com­mu­ni­ty.

    On Jan­u­ary 30, the Deputy of Infor­ma­tion Min­is­ter Uladz­imir Matu­se­vich report­ed that in 2015 anoth­er attempt would be made to launch the sin­gle Inter­net por­tal for state mass media. He thinks the por­tal will be an aggre­ga­tor for state media on the web. Now the por­tal is being test­ed.

    The polit­i­cal observ­er and media expert Ali­ak­san­dr Klask­ous­ki thinks this way the Belaru­sian state wants to expand its influ­ence online.

    On Feb­ru­ary 2, the Supreme Court informed that there would be no court hear­ings into cas­es of four activists who had staged an action of sol­i­dar­i­ty Je Suis Char­lie near the French Embassy in Min­sk. Accord­ing to the press release, the hear­ing tabled for Feb­ru­ary 4 was can­celled, and the admin­is­tra­tive reports were sent back to the police depart­ment for cor­rec­tion of flaws.

    We remind that the news about admin­is­tra­tive pros­e­cu­tion of some peo­ple who had tak­en part in the action of sol­i­dar­i­ty appeared on Jan­u­ary 21. They had been accused of vio­lat­ing the pro­ce­dure of hold­ing mass events.

    A new devel­op­ment occurred on Jan­u­ary 29 when Alexan­der Lukashen­ka was giv­ing a sev­en-hour press con­fer­ence to Belaru­sian jour­nal­ists. Tat­siana Mel­nichuk, BBC cor­re­spon­dent and mem­ber of the Board of BAJ, called on the author­i­ties to react ade­quate­ly and not to detain peo­ple with views dif­fer­ent from the offi­cial ones.

    “I total­ly sup­port this,” said Lukashen­ka and read­dressed the ques­tion to Ali­ak­san­dr Kosinets, head of the President’s Admin­is­tra­tion, and the lat­ter promised to set­tle the issue.

    On Feb­ru­ary 3, the head of the depart­ment on ide­o­log­i­cal work, cul­ture and youth issues of Babruysk city exec­u­tive com­mit­tee Hali­na Charno­va denied infor­ma­tion to Bobruyskiy Couri­er. A jour­nal­ist phoned to find out about devel­op­ments with the Muse­um of Ales Hlusha, in Babruysk dis­trict. The offi­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tive answered she would not give infor­ma­tion to this out­let. When the jour­nal­ist argued it was against the law, the offi­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tive admit­ted she knew it, but would not talk.

    On Feb­ru­ary 5, jour­nal­ists from Brest Milana Khary­ton­a­va and Ales Liauchuk were not allowed to enter premis­es of War­burg Colony, a his­to­ry and cul­ture her­itage site fac­ing destruc­tion. A secu­ri­ty guard did not let them go across the fence with­out the per­mit of the own­er. Then anoth­er man came up, he behaved aggres­sive­ly and threat­ened with beat­ing.

    On Feb­ru­ary 5, the min­istry of Infor­ma­tion Liliya Ananich informed that the Repub­li­can expert com­mis­sion (cre­at­ed on Sep­tem­ber 27, 2014) had exam­ined more than 100 mate­ri­als regard­ing extrem­ism con­tents. 25 of the works had fea­tures falling under def­i­n­i­tions of extrem­ism, pro­pa­gan­da of Nazi ideas, racial, reli­gious intol­er­ance, or lit­er­a­ture that could be used with ter­ror­is­tic aims. “The state has the lever­age to fol­low print flows,” remarked the Min­is­ter.

    On Feb­ru­ary 5, the polit­i­cal pris­on­er, mem­ber of BAJ, Yauhen Vaskovich was allowed the first in four years long-term meet­ing with his moth­er. She said he works in sewing fac­to­ry, reads the press and books in leisure time. He hopes for ear­ly release, if he does not get penal­ties until Sep­tem­ber 2015.

    We remind that Yauhen Vaskovich, jour­nal­ist of Bobruyskiy Couri­er, was sen­tenced to 7 years of colony for putting fire to the Babruysk KGB build­ing. Only façade was slight­ly dam­aged, and it was com­pen­sat­ed (the sum was 253 thou­sand rubles). How­ev­er, Yauhen Vaskovich was sen­tenced under arti­cle envis­aged for large dam­age. He serves the sen­tence in Mahilou colony No 15.

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