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  • Mass Media Week in Belarus Info-posting March 23 – April 6, 2015

    The OSCE Representative on Freedom of Speech Dunja Mijatović raised the issue of numerous fines for “illegal production and distribution of mass media products”, in fact, for that journalists contribute to foreign mass media without accreditation in Belarus. “The authorities have to stop imposing restrictive measures on freelance journalists, hindering them to do their job in a free and safe manner,” Mijatović said on April 3. “A constructive solution to this issue should be reached. My Office stands ready to assist the authorities in any way necessary in order to reverse this destructive trend, as well as facilitate a dialogue and joint activities of government institutions and media organizations on the topic.”

    On March 16, the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion reg­is­tered Lohv­in­au book­store in the Reg­is­ter of Dis­trib­u­tors of Print­ed Prod­ucts. The con­firm­ing let­ter reached Lohv­in­au on March 23. We remind that the absence of reg­is­tra­tion in 2014 was used as a pre­text to charge Lohv­in­au book­store with ille­gal trade and impose con­fis­ca­tion of almost a bil­lion rubles. Before that, the book­store had applied for reg­is­tra­tion to the Infor­ma­tion Min­istry more than six times.

    On March 24 BAJ received a reply to its request filed at the end of Feb­ru­ary to the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion ask­ing to tell what books the Repub­li­can com­mis­sion on extrem­ism con­sid­ered to be extrem­ist. The reply dat­ed March 20 and signed by the Infor­ma­tion Minister’s Deputy Uladz­imir Matu­se­vich informs that “among the mate­ri­als where signs of extrem­ism were revealed are books by A.Hitler, G.Rockwell, A.al-Badr, man­u­als on war­fare and oth­ers.”

    On Feb­ru­ary 5, the Min­is­ter of Infor­ma­tion Liliya Ananich report­ed that by that time the Repub­li­can com­mis­sion on assess­ment of infor­ma­tion prod­ucts regard­ing extrem­ist con­tents had viewed over 100 mate­ri­als, and in 25 of them had found “fea­tures falling under def­i­n­i­tions “extrem­ism, pro­pa­gan­da of ideas of Nazism, racial, reli­gious intol­er­ance” or “lit­er­a­ture which could be used with ter­ror­ist aims”.

    On March 25 the Min­is­ter of Infor­ma­tion Liliya Ananich report­ed that amend­ments have been pre­pared to the pres­i­den­tial decree No 60 “On mea­sures to improve the use of the nation­al seg­ment of the Inter­net”. Accord­ing to the Min­is­ter, the amend­ments were aimed to close the gaps for web­site own­ers for respon­si­bil­i­ty for com­ments on their web­sites.

    Accord­ing to p.12 of Decree No 60, respon­si­bil­i­ty for com­ments on web­sites was placed on their authors. Mean­time, the amend­ments made to the Law on Mass Media shift the lia­bil­i­ty on web­site own­ers.

    As became known on March 25, the Min­istry of For­eign Affairs denied accred­i­ta­tion to BAJ mem­ber Andrei Mialesh­ka as a cor­re­spon­dent of the Radio Racy­ja. The appli­ca­tion for accred­i­ta­tion was filed in Novem­ber 2014, the offi­cial reply appeared only now. The refusal refers to points 10 and 15.4 f the Rul­ing on Accred­it­ing Jour­nal­ists of For­eign Mass Media mean­ing he had not filed all nec­es­sary doc­u­ments and had worked for the mass media before.

    On March 26 the Mask­ous­ki dis­trict court of Brest heard the case of BAJ mem­ber Ales Liauchuk, with­out his par­tic­i­pa­tion. The jour­nal­ist learnt about the hear­ing on the next day by hone that he had been fined for 21 basic amounts (3 mln 780 thous rubles) for “ille­gal pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­b­u­tion of mass media prod­ucts” (admin­is­tra­tive art. 22.9). The charges were based on a report on the web­site of Bel­sat signed AL.

    On March 26, the Deputy Min­is­ter of Home Affairs Mikalay Melchanka refused to talk with BAJ chair­per­son Zhan­na Litv­ina and deputy chair Andrei Bas­tunets, although these were offi­cial recep­tion hours of the Deputy Min­is­ter. BAJ lead­ers want­ed to clar­i­fy issues with the unpub­li­cized ban to take pho­tos of admin­is­tra­tive build­ings. The Min­istry rep­re­sen­ta­tives answered that there had been an offi­cial state­ment and there was no neces­si­ty to dis­cuss it any more.

    On March 26, reports appeared that some Belaru­sian providers blocked access to Charter’97, Belarus­par­ti­san, Vias­na etc. The notice of block­ing said that the web­sites had been blocked under pres­i­den­tial edict No 60 dat­ed Feb­ru­ary 1, 2010. On March 28, access to Charter’97, belaruspartisan.org, prokopovi.ch, spring96.org was restored, with­out intel­li­gi­ble offi­cial com­ments. Accord­ing to the web­site electroname.com, which quot­ed an anony­mous source from the sphere of telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions, the block­ing occurred because two lists of web­sites with restrict­ed access were uni­fied. The first list, under edict No 60, restrict­ed access to oppo­si­tion­al and human rights web­sites to users in build­ings of pub­lic insti­tu­tions, state-run estab­lish­ments. The oth­er list was enforced in Jan­u­ary 2015 under the lat­est amend­ments to the media law and aimed at anti-drug traf­fick­ing and antiter­ror­ism; the list restrict access to some web­sites for all users. It looks like the web­sites from the ear­li­est list “fell under amnesty”.

    On March 30, the Barysau dis­trict court held anoth­er hear­ing into the law­suit of a nurse against the news­pa­per Borisovskiye Novosti. The plain­tiff con­firmed her claims and motioned to attach to the case mass media pub­li­ca­tions on ana­log­i­cal inci­dents, and pre­sent­ed her per­son­al char­ac­ter­is­tics from the place of employ­ment. She reject­ed a com­pro­mise offer. The news­pa­per rep­re­sen­ta­tive made a non-guilty plea and motioned to dis­miss the addi­tion­al doc­u­ments of the plain­tiff. The hear­ing will con­tin­ue in April 16.

    We remind that the law­suit for defense of busi­ness rep­u­ta­tion was filed against Borisovskiye Novosti for the arti­cle “Who is guilty of the death of a patient in the 2nd poly­clin­ics?” dat­ed Decem­ber 24, 2014.

    On March 30, the inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ist from Mahilow Ali­ak­san­dr Burak­ou filed a super­vi­so­ry appeal to the chair of the Supreme Court of Belarus. We remind that on Octo­ber 8, he was fined 6 mil­lion Belaru­sian rubles (around EUR 450) on admin­is­tra­tive charges of ‘ille­gal pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­b­u­tion of mass media prod­ucts (arti­cle 22.9, part 2 of Belaru­sian Code on Admin­is­tra­tive Offences); he was guilty of mak­ing the arti­cle under the title of «Along the Smug­gler’s Trail. Do the Russ­ian Sanc­tions Work in the Bor­der Area?» pub­lished with indi­ca­tion of his author­ship on the DW.de web­site on August 25, 2014. The jour­nal­ist’s pri­vate apart­ment as well as at the jour­nal­ist par­ents’ flat were searched on Sep­tem­ber 16, 2014, and two lap­tops and two flash cards were con­fis­cat­ed. The court of appeal upheld the sen­tence.

    On April 1, the Mask­ous­ki dis­trict court of Brest fined Ina Khomich for 30 basic amounts for coop­er­a­tion with the Radio Racy­ja with­out accred­i­ta­tion, under art. 22.9. The jour­nal­ist argued that she had the right to gath­er and dis­sem­i­nate infor­ma­tion, which is guar­an­teed by the Con­sti­tu­tion.

    On April 2, the judge of the Chy­hu­nach­ny dis­trict court of Homel fined Kas­tus Zhuk­ous­ki, free­lancer and BAJ mem­ber, for 30 basic amounts (5.4 mil­lion rubles) under art. 22.9. He was found guilty of pro­duc­ing a report on Bel­sat dat­ed Feb­ru­ary 6 and titled “Teach­ers and medics get pun­ished for a mur­dered child”. The arti­cle was signed with a pen name. A police cap­tain ques­tioned the school employ­ees to find out who was shoot­ing the video report. Before the court hear­ing the judge turned down the motion that the free­lancers’ inter­ests were rep­re­sent­ed by the jurist, BAJ mem­ber Leanid Sudalen­ka.

    On April 4, it became known that the Brest Region­al Court sent the case of Tama­ra Shcha­pi­otk­i­na for review. The judge admit­ted that the court of first instance held the hear­ing with vio­la­tions. 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. The judge said the jour­nal­ist would learn the court deci­sion in a let­ter that would be sent to her by post.

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