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  • Mass Media Week in Belarus Info-posting July 27 – August 16, 2015

    The reporting period was marked by intensive correspondence with executive and judicial institutions who were telling they could not help prosecuting freelance journalists under article 22.9, did not want to do anything to state monopolists, did not want to provide information to independent press; luckily, police in Mahilow do not know how to draw up documents correctly, through which two cases against journalists were closed.

    On July 27, the edi­to­r­i­al office of non-state news­pa­per Intex-press report­ed that the local Baranavichy enter­prise of com­mu­nal ser­vices failed to pro­vide infor­ma­tion to jour­nal­ists with­in legal­ly deter­mined peri­od. A jour­nal­ist of the news­pa­per found infor­ma­tion about a con­trac­tor for gov­ern­ment pur­chas­es to con­struct ani­mal bur­ial ground; the jour­nal­ist for­mu­lat­ed 16 ques­tions and sent the request in a writ­ten form. Instead of pro­vid­ing answers, the offi­cials redi­rect­ed the ques­tions with answers to the state-run news­pa­per Nash Kray, and sent a copy of the news­pa­per dat­ed July 15 to the edi­to­r­i­al office of IP. The jour­nal­ists under­line that the infor­ma­tion was exclu­sive, the ques­tions pre­pared was work of the jour­nal­ist of IP. “It is absolute­ly insult­ing. Infor­ma­tion is our busi­ness. The next step is that we can give mon­ey from sales of our news­pa­per to Nash Kray. We will com­plain to oth­er orga­ni­za­tions,” said a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of IP.

    On July 27 the Lenin dis­trict court of Mahilow closed the case against Ali­na Skrabuno­va (part 2, art. 22.9) because the peri­od of lim­i­ta­tion for admin­is­tra­tive pro­ceed­ings had expired. The jour­nal­ist was accused of ille­gal pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­b­u­tion of mass media prod­ucts because of a report about a local fac­to­ry, broad­cast on Bel­sat on May 26. The first court hear­ings were held on July 23 and 24, the lawyer Barys Bukhel under­lined that the case mate­ri­als had a lot of vio­la­tions, and the judge sent them for com­ple­tion. Also, on July 30, the jour­nal­ist filed com­plaints to the prosecutor’s office against offi­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the police depart­ment of the Lenin dis­trict of Mahilow and the police depart­ment of the Mahilow region, but the com­plaints were lat­er dis­missed because, accord­ing to their reply, the com­plaint can only be filed only dur­ing the admin­is­tra­tive pro­ceed­ings under con­sid­er­a­tion.

    On July 27, it was report­ed that the depart­ment on price poli­cies of the Min­istry of Econ­o­my did not find any vio­la­tions of the anti­mo­nop­oly law in the actions of the Repub­li­can Uni­tary Enter­prise Bel­posh­ta, which denies its ser­vices to the inde­pen­dent news­pa­per Intex-press (Baranavichy). The edi­to­r­i­al office alleged that the postal enter­prise abused its dom­i­nat­ing posi­tion and vio­lat­ed the anti­mo­nop­oly law. The agency con­firmed that the enter­prise was on the reg­is­ter of eco­nom­ic enti­ties with dom­i­nat­ing posi­tion in series of “spe­cial postal com­mu­ni­ca­tions; ser­vices on sub­scrip­tion, deliv­ery and redi­rec­tion of print mass media”. How­ev­er, the agency wrote, “inclu­sion into the sub­scrip­tion cat­a­logue does not relate to ser­vices of spe­cial postal com­mu­ni­ca­tions, sub­scrip­tion, deliv­ery and redi­rec­tion of print mass media”. A sim­i­lar reply was sent to Haze­ta Slonim­skaya.

    On July 28 in Hly­bokaye Tat­siana Smotk­i­na was fined for 4.5 mil­lion rubles under art. 22.9 (ille­gal pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­b­u­tion of mass media prod­ucts). The jour­nal­ist wrote an arti­cle “Roads will become more pos­i­tive” about an artis­tic exper­i­ment of stu­dents of the local school of art. The arti­cle was pub­lished on the web­site of the Radio Racy­ja. The case was ini­ti­at­ed by Hly­bokaye prosecutor’s office. The judge dis­missed the motion to hold the hear­ing in the Belaru­sian lan­guage. One wit­ness, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive pf the local exec­u­tive com­mit­tee whose words were quot­ed in the arti­cle, did not appear at the hear­ing. Tat­siana Smotk­i­na argued that she worked as a free­lancer and exer­cised her con­sti­tu­tion­al right to gath­er and dis­sem­i­nate infor­ma­tion. Also, on July 23, anoth­er jour­nal­ist from Hly­bokaye Zmitser Lupach was fined under the same admin­is­tra­tive arti­cle.

    The court of appeal upheld the deci­sion on fines on August 19. The hear­ing was closed behind closed doors, although there was the pub­lic will­ing to attend it.

    On July 29, the Min­istry of Home Affairs sent a reply to BAJ regard­ing the peti­tion to stop pros­e­cu­tions against free­lance jour­nal­ists under admin­is­tra­tive art. 22.9. The agency respond­ed neg­a­tive­ly: any nego­ti­a­tions with the Min­istry are sense­less, ask the Infor­ma­tion Min­istry, says the reply signed by a deputy head of the depart­ment on crime pre­ven­tion S.Krasutski.

    “These are police offi­cers who draw up admin­is­tra­tive reports against jour­nal­ists alleged­ly for vio­la­tion of mass media law. Not the Infor­ma­tion Min­istry, which is a repub­li­can exec­u­tive body, but police offi­cers who hard­ly even under­stand media leg­is­la­tion. In my view, it is an attempt to avoid dis­cus­sions in this urgent issue as dozens of jour­nal­ists in Belarus have faced it this year,” says Andrei Bas­tunets, chair­per­son of BAJ.

    On August 4, a reply regard­ing the peti­tion on free­lancers was sent from the Supreme Court. The deputy chair Rus­lan Aniske­vich replied that the prob­lem “could not be solved” accord­ing to the Law on Pub­lic Peti­tions.

    A sim­i­lar reply was sent ear­li­er from the Gen­er­al Prosecutor’s office.

    On July 29, the Kas­trych­nit­s­ki court of Mahilou closed the case against the jour­nal­ist and pub­lic activist Ihar Barysau because the peri­od of lim­i­ta­tions for admin­is­tra­tive pro­ceed­ings had expired. He was accused of vio­lat­ing art. 22.9, part 2 (ille­gal pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­b­u­tion of mass media prod­ucts), and also of art. 23.34, part 2 (the pro­ce­dure for receiv­ing for­eign mon­e­tary aid). Also, the judge issued a spe­cial rul­ing to the police offi­cers for vio­la­tions in the doc­u­ments and sub­mis­sion of the case to court after the peri­od of lim­i­ta­tion was out.

    We remind that on March 12, the editor’s flat was searched. The police were con­duct­ing a check-up in rela­tion to an arti­cle dat­ed Jan­u­ary 8. The arti­cle alleged that a direc­tor gen­er­al of a local enter­prise in Mahilow had lost a big sum in a casi­no. Upon three hours’ search­es, infor­ma­tion car­ri­ers and per­son­al com­put­ers were seized, with­out seizure pro­to­cols. The jour­nal­ist was nei­ther a sus­pect nor a wit­ness in a case; the case under art. 188 part 2 (defama­tion) was not open yet.

    On July 29, in Homel jour­nal­ists Kas­tus Zhuk­ous­ki and Natal­l­lia Kry­vashei were detained at the door of the Cen­tral police depart­ment where a pick­et had been sched­uled. The jour­nal­ists were held for around three hours, then released. Police offi­cers drew up a report that Kas­tus Zhuk­ous­ki threat­ened them, which he denies. The jour­nal­ists called it a provo­ca­tion, and expressed an inten­tion to file com­plaints to the prosecutor’s office.

    On August 5, the chief edi­tor of Haze­ta Slonim­skaya Vic­tor Val­adaschuk was sum­moned to the Slonim dis­trict police depart­ment where he was informed that an admin­is­tra­tive case was opened against the edi­to­r­i­al office under art. 23.33 (dis­tri­b­u­tion of false infor­ma­tion insult­ing hon­or and dig­ni­ty of the pres­i­dent).

    The grounds for the case was an arti­cle «Voice from a vil­lage. The main thing is that the pres­i­dent can talk nice­ly» (dat­ed July 29, the col­umn Elec­tions-2015). The arti­cle rep­re­sents an inter­view with some vil­lagers about the forth­com­ing elec­tions. The edi­tor did not know yet which frag­ment caused the case to start. Accord­ing to arti­cle 23.33 of the Admin­is­tra­tive Code, the non-state news­pa­per could be fined for up to 500 basic amounts (90 mil­lion rubles, more than 5,000 euro).

    On August 8, the cus­toms office on the bor­der cross­ing point Hrodna‑2 searched jour­nal­ist Ali­ak­sei Trubkin who was return­ing to Belarus and had sev­er­al copies of the book Sys­tem Białoruś by Andrzej Poc­zobut. The books, as well as the report by Vias­na Human Rights Vio­la­tion in Belarus in 2010 were tak­en for exam­i­na­tion. The jour­nal­ist spent on the bor­der around three hours, giv­ing expla­na­tions to the cus­toms offi­cers.

    On August 11, jour­nal­ist from Hrod­na Andrei Mialesh­ka filed a com­plaint to the Kas­trych­nit­s­ki dis­trict police depart­ment ask­ing to reveal the per­sons who write anony­mous offen­sive online arti­cles about local jour­nal­ists and civ­il activists. The jour­nal­ist also found an arti­cle about him­self. For sev­er­al years, there were pub­lished arti­cles about, among all, BAJ mem­bers A.Dzianisau, A.Kirkevich, V.Parfionenka, U.Khilmanovich and V.Sazonau.

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