‘Punished for news item I never made’. Belsat TV journalists pay $14K fines to state budget

Сompared with the previous year, the Belarusian authorities have increased their squeeze on independent journalists tenfold. The stongest pressure is being exerted on Belsat TV journalists.

On Wednesday, Petrykau District Court found our colleagues Andrey Tolchyn and Kastus Zhukouski guilty of illegal production of media products and working without accreditation. A fine of $500 was imposed on each of them.

According to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, no other media outlet in the country is coming under such fire. For the year to date, Belsat TV journalists have had to pay about $ 14,000 of fines. A significant part of this amount is penalties imposed on Homiel-based freelance journalist Larysa Shchyrakova for contributing to Belsat.

Today Ms Shchyryakova is to appear before court again. Except for Belsat TV contributors, it is the freelancers and bloggers who are charged with working without accreditation or production and distribution of media products. It is noteworthy that editorial staff are needed to product and distribute media content, but the Belarusian authorities keep hunting for ‘loners’. For example, Homel blogger Maxim Filipovich was tried because, according to the law enforcement officers, he ‘took the place’ of the state-run media production.

In 2017, Belsat TV journalists have spent days in jail; the offices were raided; our computers and equipment were seized.

Belsat TV which has been broadcasting for nine years, has been denied accreditation for its journalists during these very nine years. 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.