On March 2, Maskouski district court of Minsk passed a guilty verdict in the case of TUT.BY journalist Katsyaryna Barysevich and doctor Artsyom Sarokin. The Belarusian authorities accused the two defendants of disclosing medical secrets.
Judge Svyatlana Bandarenka has sentenced Katsyaryna Barysevich to six months of imprisonment in a penal colony and a fine of 2,900 rubles; Artsyom Sarokin has got a two-year jail term with a one-year reprieve and a fine of 1,450 rubles. He has been released in the courtroom.
On Tuesday morning, it was reported that the announcement of the verdict would be open and anyone interested would be able to attend it. However, many representatives of independent media outlets, including Katsyaryna’s colleagues, were barred from being present at today’s session.
The hearing kicked off on February 19. On the same day, it became known that the trial got closed to the press and that the it would be held in camera. It is the public prosecutor Lyudmila Ivanenka who requested a closed format ‘to avoid the disclosure of medical secrets and preliminary investigation data’.
After the Prosecutor General’s Office opened a criminal case over allegedly ‘violating medical privacy which entailed grave consequences’ (Art. 178-3), TUT.BY reporter Katsyaryna Barysevich and doctor Artsyom Sarokin were arrested on November, 19.
In her article about the tragic death of Minsker Raman Bandarenka, Barysevich referred to Sarokin, a doctor working at Minsk emergency care hospital. He gave her medical records which showed that there had been no alcohol in the blood of the victim. Its authenticity was later confirmed by Bandarenka’s mother. Government officials, including Alyaksandr Lukashenka, claim that Raman Bandarenka, who was beaten to death by unknown individuals on November 11, was in a state of intoxication. Notably, the mother allowed the publication of information about the death, including the data about the absence of alcohol in his blood.
According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, Barysevich allegedly talked Sarokin into divulging a medical secret.
“Such actions have led to an active discussion and another conflict in our society; it was aimed at shaking public confidence in official information and in general – in law enforcement agencies and public authorities,” Deputy Prosecutor General Henadz Dysko stated.
The Belarusian authorities continue to claim that Bandarenka was drunk.
Neither Sarokin nor Barysevich had been prosecuted before, the both Belarusian citizens have a permanent place of residence in the country as well as full-time employment. Their employers and colleagues gave excellent references to them. The judge and investigators are well aware of Artsyom Sarokin’s being a father of three and Katsyaryna Barysevich’s raising a minor daughter alone, but still, the strictest restraint measure (incarceration) was applied.
Belarusian and international human rights watchdogs have recognised Sarokin and Barysevich as political prisoners. They consider the persecution to be politically motivated.
Bandarenka’s murderers have not been found or identified yet. His family did not have any claims against the two defendants.