Belarusian Journalists Go On Trial, Charged With Organizing Anti-Government Protests
Experts on the actions of the Belarusian authorities to suppress freedom of speech and information and what Moscow is learning from Minsk
On Friday, the Oktyabrsky District Court of Minsk considered the cases of six Belarusian journalists who were detained on September 1 while covering protest actions. Then the law enforcement officers of the Republic of Belarus detained under the pretext of checking documents, and then sent to Akrestino the journalists of Komsomolskaya Pravda in Belarus Maria Eleshevich, Nikita Nedoverkov and Svyatoslav Zorky, the journalists of Tut.by Nadezhda Kalinina and Aleksey Sudnikov, as well as the journalist BelaPAN “Andrey Shavlyugo.
The names of the witnesses on the part of the prosecution are not named in court; in the courtroom they appear in masks and balaclavas. The reporters are accused of not only recording reports from the scene, but urging the participants to take further action. In turn, journalists do not admit their guilt.
“Everything is being done so that journalists do not go to cover the actions”
Deputy Chairman of the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) Boris Goretsky (Barys Garetski), in an interview with the correspondent of the Russian service of the Voice of America, recalled: “Last Thursday, many journalists were detained, including foreign ones. And this Tuesday, eight were detained – six Belarusian journalists, as well as RIA-Novosti and NTV correspondents. But the last two were immediately released “.
Garetsky stressed that BAJ helps detained employees of the Belarusian media find lawyers and provide legal assistance. “By the way, many of our journalists already have their own lawyers, but if someone doesn’t have their own lawyers, we provide them with such support..
We also help in drafting complaints and appeals to the court. Specialists in the provision of psychological assistance also cooperate with us, there are partners who provide correspondents with technical means to replace those broken by law enforcement officers. If someone is detained in violation of the law, we are looking for witnesses who can confirm this fact. In general, we are trying to help our colleagues in all possible ways, ”says the deputy chairman of the Belarusian Association of Journalists.
Boris Garetsky also noted that all the actions of the country’s authorities against the representatives of the press fit into a single trend: “On August 7, that is, even before the elections, the film crew of the Present Time” was expelled from Belarus. And on the night after the elections, there was shooting in the streets, and the police, without understanding, raked everyone in a row, including our colleagues. Then there was a moment when journalists could work more or less freely, and, at least, they were not detained. And since last week in Belarus, almost every day our colleagues are being grabbed. It began with the mass detention of journalists last Thursday, when 50 people were seized – this was the first attempt by the authorities to force us not to go to the rallies. But since it became clear that journalists are still going to marches and demonstrations, since then someone has been detained every day. And the most significant case was on September 1, when six employees of the Belarusian media were detained and not released, despite having the appropriate documents, accreditations, vests and badges with the inscription “Press”. That is, everything is being done so that journalists do not go to cover the actions, ”he stated..
Boris Goretsky’s conversation with the Voice of America Russian Service correspondent took place during a break in the court session. And in the late afternoon it became known that the court found all six Belarusian journalists guilty and sentenced them to three days of arrest. But since this term had already expired from the moment of arrest at the protest rally, the correspondents of KP in Belarus, Tut.by and BelaPAN were allowed to go home. The journalists’ lawyers have already stated that they do not agree with this verdict and will appeal against it in the Minsk City Court..
“The only way for Lukashenko is to flirt with the Russian leadership”
In general, the verdict of the Oktyabrsky District Court of the Belarusian capital reminded of the decisions of Russian courts in some high-profile cases of the past summer. The accused are found guilty, but they are either given the minimum (in comparison and corrected by representatives of the prosecutor’s office) terms of imprisonment, or are awarded fines.
In this regard, the Voice of America correspondent asked the co-founder of the 19/29 Fund, a fellowship of investigative journalists. Galina Sidorova, what are the similarities and differences in the actions of the authorities of the two countries of the “Union State” in relation to civil activists and representatives of the press.
“In my opinion, there is only one difference – Belarus is now in complete chaos, and no laws are in force there, including against journalists. As for Russia, we are still on the way to this lawlessness, but we are actively moving towards it “, – said Galina Sidorova.
She explains the loyal attitude of the Belarusian security officials towards journalists from Russia as follows: “Now Alexander Lukashenko is trying to save himself, and the only way for him is to flirt with the Russian leadership and call Moscow for help. And since more and more Belarusian journalists, including those who until recently worked in the state media, go over to the side of the good, Lukashenka’s entourage had to invite Russian propagandists. Therefore, it would be strange if she suddenly began to actively “blizzard” those who work, for example, in RT and replace as strikebreakers Belarusians who have left propaganda TV channels and against whom criminal cases are being instituted. “.
Assessing the overall situation in Belarus in recent months, the interlocutor of the Voice of America emphasizes that in her opinion, this country shows Russia what will most likely happen on its territory if active protests and a struggle for fair elections and for a change the ruling regime. “And you need to understand that if the laws in the country do not work and human rights are not respected, then it would be strange to expect that our journalistic fellows will be treated differently,” stresses the co-founder of the 19/29 Foundation..
At the end of her commentary, Galina Sidorova said that the situation for the emerging new Belarus, for which she herself, according to her, “is actively rooting for,” is complicated by the position of the leadership of the leading countries of the European Union. “It turns out to be a vicious circle. On the one hand, the Europeans do not want to toughly intervene (in the current events), as the former President of Lithuania Dalia Grybauskaite suggests. That is, to isolate the Lukashenka regime diplomatically and politically. Because formally, according to the Europeans, he is nevertheless, albeit crookedly, but the elected president. On the other hand, there is Vladimir Putin, who uses this situation in order to quietly get in there enough to strangle Belarus as an independent state. And this gives a special shade to everything that is happening there and leads to the fact that the Lukashenka regime harshly and simply brutally resists all attempts, in fact, the legally elected new government to take its rightful place, ”sums up Galina Sidorova.