International human rights defenders: Two Belsat journos prosecuted for gathering, sharing info about protests

Кatsyaryna Andreyeva (L) and Darya Chultsova (R).

On February 5, the London-based human rights watchdog ARTICLE 19 published a statement in the run- up to the trial of Belsat TV contributors Katsyaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova.

In mid November, journalist Katsyaryna Andreyeva (Bakhvalava) and camerawoman Darya Chultsova were detained immediately after their livestreaming and covering the brutal crackdown on protesters who gathered in the so-called Square of Change, one of the offstreet yards on Charvyakou Street in Minsk. Earlier, Minsker Raman Bandarenka had been abducted from that yard and beaten to death.

“Restrictions on freedom of expression taken to protect public order and/or national security can constitute a legitimate ground for the restriction of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. However, this limitation must not be used by authorities to silence opposition or dissent. In this case, suggesting that media coverage of a protest could constitute the ‘organisation of violation of public order’ is a dangerous precedent that undermines the basic functions of journalistic reporting,” the statement reads.

Chultsova and Andreyeva are accused of ‘organising and preparing actions that grossly violate public order’ (Art. 342-1 of the Criminal Code). If found guilty, the two girls may be sentenced to up to three years of imprisonment. On November 24, Belarusian human rights activists recognised them as political prisoners. The investigation also claims that 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).

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According to the international human rights defenders, the charges against the two journalists are contrary to the recognised international human rights standards and their prosecution amounts to a violation of their right to freedom of expression. No evidence has been brought forward to prove that their actions constitute the ‘organisation of violation of public order’, they stressed.

ARTICLE 19 argues that the two journalists are prosecuted for carrying out their role, i.e. gathering and sharing important information about protests, and urges the Belarusian authorities to:

  • Immediately and unconditionally drop the criminal case against journalists Katsyaryna Andreyeva (Bakhvalava) and Darya Chultsova and refrain from any similar charges against journalists covering protests in the future;
  • Fully recognise, respect, fulfil and protect the right of peaceful assembly and the right to freedom of expression of the Belarusian people;
  • Halt persecution and repressions of media workers, human rights defenders, civil society activists and regular protesters;
  • Release political prisoners and engage in a genuine and constructive dialogue with the political opposition.

Frunzenski district court of Minsk is to start hearing the case of the Belsat crew at 10 am on February, 9. The judge is Natallya Buhuk.

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