An appeal against the verdict in two Belsatters’ case has been filed to Minsk City Court.
On February 18, judge Natallya Buhuk passed a verdict of guilty and sentenced Katsyaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova to two years of imprisonment in a minimum-security penal colony. Andreyeva’s lawyer Syarhei Zikratski voiced the main theses of the defence.
According to them, one cannot qualify the events of November 15 as ‘actions that grossly violate public order’. International law guarantees citizens the right to peaceful assembly, and on that day, Belarusians just exercised their right, the lawyers state.
In their opinion, the prosecution failed to present any facts of disobedience to officers’ lawful demands, which is a necessary condition for starting prosecution under this article. However, the verdict reads that the disobedience occurred. Moreover, they did not provide any proofs of the allegation that it was the protesters’ actions that caused a traffic disruption on that Sunday.
Zikratski did not reveal what the lawyers would do if the appeal was not upheld. He states that the opportunities to continue defending the journalists go far beyond appealing against the convicion to Minsk City Court.
The journalists’ case was considered in Frunzenski district court of Minsk within three days in February. The investigators claim the Belsat crew ‘coordinated protesters and called for further actions’, but the two media workers were just performing their professional duties by reporting from the scene. Moreover, in accordance with the authorities’ version, the livestream of the journalists resulted in the stoppage of 13 buses, 3 trolleybuses and 3 streetcar routes as well as the damage to the city transport agency Minsktrans (around 11,562 rubles). Public prosecutor Alina Kasyanchyk demanded the two girls serve a two-year prison term each and their working equipment be confiscated in profit of the state. The defence lawyers asked the court to acquit the defendants due to the lack of evidence, but the judge took heed of the prosecution’s opinion.
Katsyaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova were arrested on November 15 for broadcasting live a violent dispersal of a rally in memory of murdered protester Raman Bandarenka and the destruction of a national memorial in the so called Square of Change by security forces. They were filming and commenting on what was going on from the apartment on the 14th floor of the house on Smarhouski Trakt Street in Minsk, where they had been invited by the hosts. After the rally, armed riot police broke the door to the apartment and detained the girls.
At first, Katsya and Dasha had administrative reports filed against them under Article 23.34 and 23.4 of the Administrative Code. They were accused of allegedly participating in an unauthorized protest and disobeying the police. On November 17, a Minsk court sentenced them to 7 days of administrative arrest for their professional activities. The court ruling said that Katsyaryna and Darya had committed an offense, but their actions did not constitute a crime. However, contrary to the court’s findings, a criminal case was launched against Belsat journalists right at that time. On November 20, they were charged under Part 1 of Article 342 of the Criminal Code (organisation and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order). The girls were kept in custody, transferred to Zhodzina prison and held in separate cells.
On November 24, Belarusian human rights watchdogs recognised Katsyaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova as political prisoners.