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  • Mass Media Week in Belarus Info-posting March 2 – 15, 2015

    Most discussed issues of the period were written warnings to several independent mass media for minor faults and an internal document of the Ministry of Home Affairs which prevented people from taking pictures of administrative buildings.

    On March 2, the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion issued warn­ings under art. 22 of the Law on Mass Media to socio-polit­i­cal week­ly Borisovskiye Novosti and news­pa­per Reklam­nyj Bor­jo­mi for cut­ting the name the Repub­lic of Belarus to abbre­vi­a­tion RB in the pub­li­ca­tion data. Both the out­lets belong to the pri­vate uni­tary enter­prise Bukas Media Cen­ter. The warn­ings were signed by the Infor­ma­tion Min­is­ter Liliya Ananich. A lit­tle ear­li­er, sim­i­lar warn­ings were issued to region­al news­pa­pers Intex-press (Baranavichy) and Haze­ta Slonim­skaya.

    On March 2 in Hly­bokaye (Viteb­sk region), an inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ist and BAJ mem­ber Zmitser Lupach was not allowed to enter the local exec­u­tive com­mit­tee because he had a pro­fes­sion­al pho­to cam­era with him. The secu­ri­ty offi­cer said entrance pro­fes­sion­al cam­eras was for­bid­den, refer­ring to a direc­tive if the chair­per­son of the exec­u­tive com­mit­tee. The jour­nal­ist filed an offi­cial com­plaint to the com­mit­tee.

    As became known on March 3, the Inves­tiga­tive Com­mit­tee had ini­ti­at­ed a crim­i­nal case under art. 367, part 1 of the Crim­i­nal Code (libel against the head of state) against Mikhail Luka­she­vich, a 63-year old res­i­dent of Brest. The case start­ed on Decem­ber 29, 2014 “for a polit­i­cal blog” which the man had run for 10 years on a fence and his own garage in Yes­enin street in Brest. The Inves­tiga­tive Com­mit­tee had found crime con­stituents in the notices writ­ten on the walls. The man refus­es to coop­er­ate with the inves­ti­ga­tion, for which he had once been detained. His house was searched, brush­es and paint were seized. Luka­she­vich refus­es to talk to jour­nal­ists, but addressed for help to human rights defend­ers.

    On March 4, an inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ist Vik­tar Parfio­nen­ka from Hrod­na filed a per­son­al com­plaint to the Min­sk City Court. The jour­nal­ist plans to go through all instances to prove that the Min­istry of For­eign Affairs refus­es to accred­it him with­out any grounds. We remind that Vik­tar Parfio­nen­ka had applied for accred­i­ta­tion as a jour­nal­ist of the Belaru­sian Radio Racy­ja sev­en times.

    On March 4, human right defend­er and BAJ mem­ber Nas­ta Loy­ka received a reply to her com­plaint she had filed upon the inci­dent that occurred on Jan­u­ary 23: jour­nal­ists did not man­age to get to the admin­is­tra­tive hear­ings over activists who planned to stage com­mem­o­ra­tive event ded­i­cat­ed to anniver­sary of Maj­dan in Ukraine. The action took place on Jan­u­ary 22, all par­tic­i­pants were detained. The next day, the detainees were not tak­en to court; the admin­is­tra­tive hear­ing took place at the police depart­ment of the Cen­tral dis­trict of Min­sk. Jour­nal­ists were not allowed to enter the build­ing (name­ly, BAJ mem­bers Tat­siana Vlasen­ka, Nat­sas­sia Reznika­va, Ali­ak­sei Shein, Aleh Hruzdzilovich). In the reply, the Min­sk City Court claims that all infor­ma­tion about the hear­ings was pro­vid­ed on the infor­ma­tion stand at the police depart­ment, and the hear­ings were held in an open regime. So to say, the judge held the hear­ing cor­rect­ly, and the issue of pass con­trol lies with­in the com­pe­tence of secu­ri­ty guards of the police depart­ment. The jour­nal­ists and human rights activists are going to com­plain against the sit­u­a­tion fur­ther.

    On March 4, in the court­room of the Zavad­s­ki dis­trict court in Min­sk, pho­to jour­nal­ist Uladz Hry­dzin was detained while cov­er­ing a crim­i­nal tri­al. He says he start­ed to adjust his equip­ment before the begin­ning of the process, which attract­ed the atten­tion of court secu­ri­ty offi­cers. They detained the jour­nal­ist and took him to the police depart­ment of the Zavad­s­ki dis­trict where his ID was checked and pho­tos in the cam­era viewed. He was set free around one and a half hour lat­er. How­ev­er, a lit­tle lat­er, the head of the police depart­ment phoned him and invit­ed the jour­nal­ist for a talk. The jour­nal­ist declined the invi­ta­tion.

    On March 4 BAJ filed a request to the Min­is­ter of Home Affairs’ Deputy Mikalay Melchanka. “The media tell about a direc­tive issued by you this Feb­ru­ary ban­ning to take pho­to or video of admin­is­tra­tive build­ings. Refer­ring to this direc­tive, police offi­cers have sev­er­al times detained jour­nal­ists in places open for the pub­lic. This way jour­nal­ists’ rights were vio­lat­ed (though) guar­an­teed by the Law on Mass Media. BAJ asks to inform whether it is true that /…/ rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Min­istry of Home Affairs have issued any direc­tive in this regard, and if yes, please, send us a copy.”

    Also on March 4, BAJ phoned to Vik­tar Novikau, the deputy head of the press ser­vice of the Min­istry, but he denied know­ing any­thing about the direc­tive. A day before Ali­ak­san­dr Bar­suk­ou, the head of the Min­sk City Exec­u­tive Com­mit­tee, answer­ing the ques­tion on a hot­line, assured that “nobody banned tak­ing pho­tos”. Mean­while, on March 6 the Min­istry of Home Affairs gave an offi­cial com­ment to BelTA claim­ing that pub­li­ciz­ing of doc­u­ments of inter­nal use was not manda­to­ry. “The require­ment is aimed at ensur­ing safe­ty in the coun­try and increas­ing vig­i­lance of employ­ees of home affairs in the part of pre­vent­ing poten­tial threats of dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter: from provo­ca­tions to ter­ror­ist acts,” said the imper­son­al press release.

    On March 5 a cor­re­spon­dent of the infor­ma­tion­al agency Bela­PAN Uladz­imir Lapt­se­vich received a reply to his request he had addressed to the Mahilow Region Coun­cil of Deputies. It’s been almost a year that the jour­nal­ist fails to get admis­sion to fol­low meet­ings of the Coun­cil. The jour­nal­ist want­ed to know which doc­u­ment reg­u­lat­ed the process of accred­i­ta­tion. It turned out that the Coun­cil used the rules of work of the region­al Coun­cil. The rules envis­age that the num­ber of peo­ple and who will fol­low the meet­ings is up to the chair­per­son of the Coun­cil. The fact that the cor­re­spon­dent does not get accred­i­ta­tion vio­lates his rights under the Law on Mass Media and the trans­paren­cy prin­ci­ple ensured by the Law on Local Gov­er­nance and Self-Gov­er­nance.

    On March 6, Tama­ra Scha­pi­otk­i­na, from Biaroza town, Brest region, was fined for 40 basic amounts (7 mil­lion 200 thou­sand rubles) for work with­out accred­i­ta­tion for the Belaru­sian Radio Racy­ja. 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 had been sent to court, but on Feb­ru­ary 27, the Lenin dis­trict court of Brest sent the admin­is­tra­tive pro­to­col for com­ple­tion. On March 5, the jour­nal­ist received a court sum­mons in an SMS. On March 6, she came to court before 9am, with a lawyer. How­ev­er, the lawyer was informed that the hear­ing had already been over and the jour­nal­ist did not appear at court as the sum­mons request­ed. When the jour­nal­ist entered the judge’s room, the lat­ter asked her rude­ly to go out. The judge said the jour­nal­ist would learn the court deci­sion in a let­ter that would be sent to her by post. The jour­nal­ist filed a com­plained to the chair­per­son of the court, and anoth­er one to the prosecutor’s office. We remind that Tama­ra Shcha­pi­otk­i­na had been already fined on Decem­ber 17, 2014 under sim­i­lar charges.

    On March 7, tourists were detained in Iwye, Hrod­na region; the police checked their IDs and delet­ed their pho­tos of the prosecutor’s office, fire­fight­ers’ sta­tion, mar­riage reg­is­tra­tion hall and of the pub­lic library.

    On March 11, the sec­ond hear­ing took place in the law­suit filed by a nurse against Borisovskiye Novosti. The nurse claims that arti­cle “Who is guilty of a patient’s death in the 2nd poly­clin­ics?” (dat­ed Decem­ber 24, 2014) spread lies about her and dam­aged her busi­ness rep­u­ta­tion. She wants the news­pa­per to pub­lish refu­ta­tion and pay 50 mil­lion for moral dam­age. The hear­ing last­ed four hours, the judge heard both the sides; con­tin­u­a­tion is on March 30.

    On March 11 the term to bring activists to admin­is­tra­tive lia­bil­i­ty for an unsanc­tioned pick­et had expired. The case deals with an action of sol­i­dar­i­ty with Char­lie Heb­do vic­tims. Four peo­ple, includ­ing the leader of the Unit­ed Civ­il Par­ty Ana­tol Liabedz­ka, took part in the sol­i­dar­i­ty actions near the French Embassy in Min­sk. The police drew up admin­is­tra­tive reports for an unsanc­tioned action. Lat­er, the issue was raised at a press con­fer­ence with Ali­ak­san­dr Lukashen­ka. Then, the admin­is­tra­tive report was sent back for com­ple­tion, and that’s it.

    On March 12, Ihar Barysau, the edi­tor of the web­site Nash Mahilow, told that the police were con­duct­ing a check-up in rela­tion to an arti­cle dat­ed Jan­u­ary 8; the police pre­sent­ed a search­es war­rant under art. 188 part 2 (defama­tion). The arti­cle alleges that a direc­tor gen­er­al of a local enter­prise in Mahilow had lost a big sum in a casi­no. From the police offi­cers’ words, the case had not been open yet, it was only a pre­lim­i­nary inquiry. Upon three hours’ search­es, infor­ma­tion car­ri­ers and per­son­al com­put­ers were seized, with­out seizure pro­to­cols. Also, the police did not allow to engage human rights activists as wit­ness­es of the search­es; instead, two oth­er peo­ple par­tic­i­pat­ed whom the offi­cers had invit­ed. On the same day, the local office of Vias­na in Mahilow was searched, by the same police offi­cers who had ser­ar­ched the editor’s flat. The police seized three com­put­ers and a modem from Vias­na office.

    On March 12, two peo­ple in plain clothes paid a vis­it to par­ents of Verani­ka Charkasa­va, a jour­nal­ist mur­dered ten years ago. The vis­i­tors called on the door at 6.30 am. One of them intro­duced him­self as an employ­ee of the police, the oth­er did not talk. They want­ed to have a talk with Veranika’s son. Veranika’s step­fa­ther Uladz­imir Mialesh­ka answered that every­thing had its lim­its and their patience too, and declined fur­ther talks. We remind, Verani­ka Charkasa­va, jour­nal­ist of the news­pa­per Sal­i­dar­nasc’, was stabbed on Octo­ber 20, 2004 in Min­sk. The mur­der­er has not been found yet.

    On March 12, the inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ist Larysa Shchyrako­va was fined by the Cen­tral dis­trict court of Homel for 20 basic amounts (3 mln 600 rubles) for work for for­eign mass media with­out accred­i­ta­tion (art. 22.9 of the Admin­is­tra­tive Code). The grounds for the case was a TV report on Bel­sat about a strike of local pri­vate entre­pre­neurs. The admin­is­tra­tive report was drawn up on March 8 by the head of the pub­lic order unit of the Cen­tral dis­trict police depart­ment, sub­colonel Yury Panin. The jour­nal­ist will appeal against the court deci­sion.

    On March 14 the Nation­al legal Inter­net-por­tal pub­lished Rul­ing No 6 of the Min­istry of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Informa­ti­za­tion (dat­ed Feb­ru­ary 18). The doc­u­ment estab­lish­es the pro­ce­dure of form­ing and stor­ing data about infor­ma­tion resources viewed by Inter­net users. Since Jan­u­ary 1, 2016, Inter­net providers are oblig­ed to store actu­al infor­ma­tion about which resources users view. Providers are oblig­ed to store infor­ma­tion about users for a year: num­ber and date of sign­ing a user’s con­tract, name, address, MAC address etc.

    On March 14 the inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ist from Biarozau­ka Yury Dzi­ashuk report­ed that peo­ple he has talked to have trou­bles with the offi­cials. For instance, a librar­i­an from Biaroza city library was invit­ed for a talk to the KGB after the jour­nal­ist talked to her. Mean­time, the librar­i­an denies this infor­ma­tion. Also, the jour­nal­ist says employ­ees of the Lida muse­um are banned to talk to him. On Feb­ru­ary 19, 2014 Yury Dzi­ashuk received a pros­e­cu­to­r­i­al warn­ing against coop­er­a­tion with for­eign mass media with­out accred­i­ta­tion.

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