On June 10, the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) announced the recipients of its 31st annual Courage in Journalism Awards. Our jailed colleagues Katsyaryna Andreyeva (Bakhvalava) and Darya Chultsova are among his year’s winners. They have been behind bars for over 200 days.
According to the IWMF, the Courage in Journalism Awards show people that women journalists are not going to step aside, cannot be silenced, and deserve to be recognized for their strength in the face of adversity. It honors the brave journalists who report on taboo topics, work in environments hostile to women, and share difficult truths.
“This year’s Courage Award winners persist despite incredible odds, including censorship and intimidation both online and offline.It is an honor to recognize Darya, Katsyaryna, Paola, Vanessa, and the team at Khabar Lahariya for their devotion and determination to keep us informed. For these women, and countless others, participation in public discourse is dangerous and traumatic – we salute them and congratulate their courage,” said the IWMF’s Executive Director Elisa Lees Muñoz.
Katsyaryna“s husband Ihar Ilyash managed to inform her about the award in a telegram he sent to the penal colony in Homiel.
“This award turned out to be a huge surprise for me. When my lawyer had told me about the news, I felt incredible joy, which is a rare emotion in prison. The Courage award will grant me with strength to pull through all challenges on my way. It is an honour to share a stage with the bravest women journalists of the world,” she said.
According to Chultsova’s mother Natallya Tserabilenka, receiving award, her daughter represents every woman journalist in Belarus and worldwide who suffers behind bars, despite the risks.
The two media workers 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).
Their 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 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 judge Natallya Buhuk took heed of the prosecution’s opinion.
On November 24, Belarusian human rights watchdogs recognised Katsyaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova as political prisoners.