Belsat journalists Darya Chultsova and Katsyaryna Andreyeva, imprisoned since 15 November 2020, have won the special George Weidenfeld prize within the framework of the Axel-Springer-Preis German journalistic prize.
The Axel-Springer-Preis was founded in 1991 by the German publishing house of the same name and is awarded annually by the German Academy of Journalism. The Axel-Springer-Preis has several nominations, one of them being the George Weidenfeld Special Prize. It is awarded for outstanding achievements in investigative journalism, courageous and risky reporting. It is the only category of the Axel-Springer-Preis in which not only German-speaking journalists can be winners. The first winner of the 2019 George Weidenfeld Special Prize was the Slovak investigative journalist Jan Kuciak posthumously. This year, for the first time, journalists from Belarus were the recipients of this award.
“The George Weidenfeld Prize is awarded to Darya Chultsova and Katsyaryna Andreyeva, who risked everything to show the world what is happening in Belarus,” said Jury member Paul Ranzheimer.
Paul Ranzheimer addressed Darya Chultsova and Katsyaryna Andreyeva personally:
“In the last picture the world saw, you are behind bars in the courtroom. You did what Belarusian dictator Alyaksandr Lukashenka probably fears the most: you smiled and showed the V sign – “Victoria” – victory. I was in Belarus in the summer, reporting from the streets about the courageous women of Minsk.
To me, to all of us, you are both great journalistic role models. At your 27 and 23 years old, you were thrown in jail – no doubt because you were greatly feared by the authorities.”
As the jury member notes, when many reporters had already left Belarus in the fall of 2020, Ekaterina Andreeva and Daria Chultsova continued to work, “bringing us a clear and exciting picture of events.” “And on that November day that ended with your imprisonment, you continued your important work,” he adds. Paul Ranzheimer called the charges against Catherine and Daria absurd.
“All of the world’s dictatorships have in common the desire to oppress people and prevent freedom of speech. They fight against those who stand for freedom. You, Catherine and Daria, stand for freedom, you stand for free journalism, which requires incredible courage.
Every day, when you were reporting from the streets of Belarus, you were threatened with arrest. But you kept going forward against all odds. And even if the court sentenced you to two years in a penal colony, your courage, your sincerity did not leave you,” he stressed.
Darya Chultsova does not yet know that she has won the George Weidenfeld special prize. Her lawyer managed to tell Katsyaryna Andreyeva about it. Our colleague sent her sincere thanks to the jury of the Axel-Springer-Preis for supporting free Belarusian journalism”.
“My colleagues and I paid a high price for the opportunity to convey truthful information to the public, but I believe that it was not all in vain. After my release I intend to continue my professional activities in Belarus.
The prize helped me to feel international support and solidarity and motivated me, even more, to bear any ordeal with a smile. “Most of all, I wish that my colleagues and all political prisoners in Belarus would be released and acquitted as soon as possible. Long live the free word and long live Belarus!” stated Katsyaryna.
Darya Chultsova and Katsyaryna Andreyeva were detained on November 15, 2020, for broadcasting the violent dispersal during the rally in memory of Raman Bandarenka and the destruction of the people’s memorial by security forces. Katsyaryna and Darya were charged under Part 1 of Article 342 (“Organization and preparation of actions grossly violating public order”) of the Criminal Code. On February 18, 2021 Judge of the Frunzenski District Court of Minsk Natallia Buhuk sentenced Katsyaryna and Darya to two years’ imprisonment in a penal colony.
Our colleagues pleaded not guilty and considered the persecution as the revenge of the special services for their professional activities.
The conviction of Katsyaryna and Darya resonated widely both in Belarus and internationally. The politically motivated persecution of our colleagues was condemned by journalists, politicians, public figures, diplomats, and leaders of democratic countries.
The girls’ lawyers demanded that the verdict be canceled and the proceedings in the criminal case stopped. But on 23 April the college board of Minsk city court, composed of Valiantsina Zyankevich, Pyotr Arlou, and Alena Ananich, rejected the appeal, leaving the verdict unchanged. The journalists did not take part in the trial – the court refused for them to join the trial even by video link.
In custody, Darya and Katsyaryna were placed on a preventive register as persons “prone to extremism and other destructive actions”. Such status provides for increased control on the part of the administration. In the colony, they are now required to wear yellow tags, which is the color used to designate persons allegedly “prone to extremism”.