‘I am in prison, I have right to relax’: Jailed Belsatter Darya Chultsova sends letter to mother

Darya Chultsova’s latest letter. Photo: Natallya Tserabilenka

Natallya Tserabilenka, the mother of imprisoned political prisoner Darya Chultsova, has received a letter from her daughter who is being held in the women’s penal colony in Homiel.

Darya attached a photo cut out of the newspaper. According to her, the penal colony authorities staged an event called ‘The Queen of Autumn’ and the journalist also took part in it.

I am in prison, I have the right to relax,she said with a sad irony.

Photo: Natallya Tserabilenka

Exactly a year ago, pro-Lukashenka forces grabbed our colleagues Katsyaryna Andreyeva (Bakhvalava) and Darya Chultsova when they performing their journalistic duties. Since then, they have been held in detention centres, a remand prison and a penal colony.

Katsyaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova were arrested on 15 November 2020 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. Originally, the journalists were detained under the Code of Administrative Offences: they spent the first five days in custody in this status. However, 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’).

Story of imprisoned Belsat journalists Katsyaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova

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. Our colleagues pleaded not guilty and considered the persecution as the revenge of the secret services for their professional activities.

Belarusian human rights watchdogs recognised Katsyaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova as political prisoners. The conviction of the journalists resonated widely both in Belarus and internationally. The politically motivated persecution was condemned by journalists, politicians, public figures, diplomats, and leaders of democratic countries.

‘No prison can break my zest for life’: One year in letters of jailed Belsat TV journo Katsyaryna Andreyeva

In late April, Minsk City Court rejected their appeals, upholding the sentences delivered. Behind bars, the girls were placed on the preventive register as ‘persons prone to extremism and other destructive actions’. Being added to the above mentioned list means more severe treatment of an inmate and restricting their rights even in prison.

Over the past year, Katsyaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova have become holders of European Journalist of the Year’ title, the Free Media Awards, the Courage in Journalism Awards, the Leipzig Prize for Freedom and the Future in the Media, the Axel-Springer-Preis, the Polish Press Club’s Dariusz Fikus Special Prize, the Prize of the Lithuanian Union of Journalists ‘Hope of Freedom’, and others.

In June, Andreyeva and Chultsova were transferred to the women’s penal colony in the Belarusian city of Homiel.

She’s busy every minute: this way time flies faster. How Belsat TV journo Darya Chultsova is getting along in penal colony

You can show your support and write to them:

Katsyaryna Bakhvalava (Andreyeva) / Darya Chultsova

Penal colony Nr 4,

Antoshkin Street 3

246035 Homiel, Belarus

Don’t forget to enclose an empty envelope so that the girls could respond to your letter. Thank you for your unindifference!

In the summer of 2021, the Belarusian authorities commuted sentences imposed on the two Belsat TV journos under the Law on Amendments to the Codes of Criminal Liability that came into force in June. In August, Frunzenski district court of Minsk ruled to reconsider the term of imprisonment for Katsyaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova from the moment of their detention to the moment of consideration of the appeal against the sentence. This period (153 days) is counted by the formula 1 day for 1.5 days. Thus, the punishment imposed on the two girls has been reduced by 2.5 months; from now on, they are expected to be released not in November, but in September 2022.

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