The independent news agency BelaPAN has awarded journalists Katsyaryna Andreyeva, Darya Chultsova, Katsyaryna Barysevich with Ales Lipai Prize which is also known as ‘Honour to Journalism’. The three media workers have been behind bars for nearly five months.
BelaPAN established the prize in honour and memory of its head Ales Lipai who died in August 2018. Since 2019, the award has been presented on April 9, Lipai’s birthday, for ‘professional achievements and civic actions that contribute to the media market development and the evolvement of Belarus as a democratic state’.
“This year, many representatives of the Belarusian media meet the award criteria – both those who are jailed and those who continue to do their work under unprecedented pressure. But Katsyaryna Barysevich, Katsyaryna Bakhvalava (Andreyeva) and Darya Chultsova were the first to be convicted on criminal charges for fulfilling their professional duties,” the statement reads.
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 crew. 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 two Belsattters’ 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.
On March 2, Minsk judge Svyatlana Bandarenka sentenced Katsyaryna Barysevich to six months of imprisonment in a penal colony and a fine of 2,900 rubles; she and another defendant, Artsyom Sarokin, were arrested on November, 19 when the Prosecutor General’s Office opened a criminal case over allegedly ‘violating medical privacy which entailed grave consequences’ (Art. 178-3). In her article about the tragic death of 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. The Belarusian authorities, including Alyaksandr Lukashenka, keep claiming that Bandarenka was drunk. Notably, his mother allowed the publication of information about the death, including the data about the absence of alcohol in his blood. Raman Bandarenka’s murderers have not been found or identified yet. His family did not have any claims against the two defendants.
On November 24, Belarusian human rights watchdogs recognised Katsyaryna Andreyeva, Darya Chultsova, Katsyaryna Barysevich as political prisoners.