The Belarusian authorities continue to persecute independent journalists. On November 5, Brest-based Belsat TV contributors Ales Lyauchuk and Milana Kharytonava got another fine. The latter will stand another trial on November, 14.
On November 2, Svyataslau Kalina, a judge at Leninski district court in Brest, imposed a fine of 1,250 rubles on each of them for interviewing participants in protests against the construction of a battery factory near the city.
Over the past three weeks, Lyauchuk and Kharytonava, who are married to each other, have been tried five times; the amount of fines has totalled to 9,325 Belarusian rubles.
On Monday, Milana Kharytonava was informed of a new trial.
“Local police inspector Raman Trafimuk has drawn a protocol upon me for photographing apoliceman whp was giving a summons to my husband in our stairwell. The policeman questioned me, and then took out the report prepared on November, 2! When policemen come to us, they often fail to introduce themselves, or they commit numerous violations when making protocols, or visit us on Saturday evenings. I take it as psychological pressure and try to video such cases or take pictures and then post information on social media. It turns out that now I am being persecuted for spreading information about police lawlessness,” Kharytonava said.
According to the Belsat crew, the pressure is unprecedented.
“The police are keeping watch over us. They are often spotted near our block of flat, in the stairway as well as at the places where we work. They ‘ambushed’ even near the school our daughter goes to! On their request, our telephone company provides them with the information about our location and movements. Many people, both visible and invisible, have been contributing to the harassment of the journalists for the past two months,” Lyauchuk stressed.
“The regime has started a real war against us; they give us no space to live and work. The pressure is strong, systematic and continuous. The authorities and the police are definitely set to prevent us from contributing to Belsat. I cannot give another reason for what is going on,” he said.
Because of the work in the ‘partisan’ conditions, Belsat employees are often on trial for illegal production of media materials (Article 22.9) and work without accreditation. In 2017 alone, Belsat contributors paid to the state as much as $14,000 in fines. According to BAJ, last year, 94% of fines for alleged illegal manufacturing of media materials fell on the journalists of Belsat.
The Belarusian Foreign Ministry has repeatedly declared that it could not issue any accreditation to Belsat because the journalists working for the TV station … break the law.
Thus, the circle closes: journalists are denied accreditation because they break the law and they break the law, because they work without accreditation that they seek. And it explains the existence of absurdist Article 22.9 of the Administrative Code, which provides punishment for ‘illegal production and distribution of media products’. If you have accreditation, you are allowed be a journalist. If you do not have it – you are outlawed.
For the year to date, fines exceeding $ 32,000 have been imposed on our journalists by the Belarusian authorities.