The third day of trial of Belsat TV journalist Katsyaryna Andreyeva and camerawoman Darya Chultsova has started in Frunzenski district court of Minsk.
Their case is considered by judge Natallya Buhuk.
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 girls.
At first, Katsya and Dasha had administrative reports filed against them under Article 23.34 and 23.4 of the Administrative Code. They were accused of allegedly participating in an unauthorized protest and disobeying the police. On November 17, a Minsk court sentenced them to 7 days of administrative arrest for their professional activities. The court ruling said that Katsyaryna and Darya had committed an offense, but their actions did not constitute a crime.
However, contrary to the court’s findings, a criminal case was launched against Belsat journalists right at that time. 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 girls were kept in custody and transferred to Zhodzina prison and kept in separate cells. The two media workers are facing up to three years in jail.
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).
On November 24, Belarusian human rights watchdogs recognised Katsyaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova as political prisoners.
As before, a lot of people have come to the court to show their support for the girls. At the same time, there are many plainclothes officers, a riot police van is parked near the building.
10:05 The attendees start to be let into the courtroom. Katsya and Dasha are there.
Katsyaryna and Darya seem to be a bit nervous. 8-10 security guards and several persons who were barred from entering the courtroom remain in the lobby.
10:15 The judge accepts the city public transport agency Minsktrans’ waiver. On Tuesday, witness Raman Pranovich, who is in charge of traffic routing at Minsktrans, abandoned the claims, confirming that all the losses were recompensed by the defendants.
According to the ethics committee of the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), Katsya did not call on the viewers to take any actions; she did adhere to the objectivity principle.
11:10 A letter from the British human rights watchdog Article19 is attached to the case file. It reads that the journalists just performed their professional duties without calling for any actions. The organisation demands the release of journalists and the exercise of the right to freedom of speech.
11:25 Prosecutor Alina Kasyanchyk reads out the record of what the girls were doing in the apartment and describes the equipment they had on November 15.
“For selfish motives, they committed this crime with the help of phones, wearing the vests PRESS,” she said.
Kasyanchyk says that the defendants repeatedly stepped onto the roadway and asked people for comments from there, which resulted in the traffic disruption.
11:30 The prosecutor claims that Katsyaryna knew that the police arrived at the scene and refers to the fact of their hiding from law enforcement officers in the apartment and lying on the floor in an attempt to remain unnoticed by the drones.
Alina Kasyanchyk demands Katsyaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova be sentenced to two years of imprisonment. She also insists on confiscating their equipment in profit of the state.
11:35 Darya Chultsova’s lawyer Alyaksandr Khayetski says that the accusations presented cannot be a proof of the girls’ committing the offence. According to him, as the ‘evidence’ recordings were not sealed, one may wonder how and from where the investigation got all those recordings. Conducting the search was controversial, as there was no prosecutor’s warrant.
Khayetski adds that there is no clear explanation of the difference between a ‘violation of public order’ and a ‘gross violation of public order’. He also notes that there is no evidence that Darya and Katsyaryna were on the roadway. As there was no mobile Internet in the area at that moment, the girls could not be behind ‘staging mass riots’.
11:55 Katsyaryna Andreyeva’s lawyer Syarhei Zikratski takes the floor:
“The authorities knew that protesters would come to the Square of Change; they should have ensured their safety <…> The authorities must respect the people’s right to peaceful assembly. Even if the gathering was not authorised, this should not prevent journalists from covering it <…> I am sure that no actions that ‘grossly violate public order’ took place thee. However, investigators still opened criminal cases against the journalists and even ‘probed’ into them.
<…> In order to believe that the journalists committed acts that grossly violate public order, one needs a third person who was present at the scene and who would confirm their guilt, i.e. they should have come to court and state ‘yes, due to the actions of Andreyeva-Bakhvalava and Chultsova, I went out to take part in the protests!’ But such a witness has never appeared.”
12:35 Zikratski makes mention of the locals’ informing the police of protests on November 15, but he stresses that those people did not name any actions that ‘grossly violate public order’.
“When the investigator made a request to Minsktrans, he immediately asked them to assess the damage caused by ‘blocking the road due to mass riots’. And this is the very evidence in accordance with which charges are brought in court! The information about [ the process of estimating] the damage still remains a mystery.”
On February 16, only some fragments were viewed in court, not the full video of the stream, he notes.
12:55 Syarhei Zikratski asks why only fragments recommended by the prosecutor were shown.
“We do not have a chance to see the bigger picture, and the fact that there were no ‘calls’ in Katsya’s words has already been proven.”
He notes that Darya’s story is different, because she was not talking during the livestream at all, she was filming.
“If a journalist finds it necessary to refer to a Telegram channel, it is entirely their right.”
Zikratski quotes Katsyaryna; in the course of the stream, she said that as the security forces had arms, defenceless protesters needed help.
“It is the very words that the prosecution considers a gross violation of order, isn’t it?” the lawyer wonders.
13:05 Zikratski stresses that Katsyaryna did not voice any word which could be perceived as a call for mass riots. He believes that did not provide any proof of the violation committed. The defence lawyer says that the journalists were performing their duties in a peaceful and honest manner. In his opinion, if they are prosecuted for their work, it is nothing but a breach of international norms of freedom of speech.
13:20 Katsyaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova make their last pleas.
“High Court, I urge you to have a good look through the case file and give an unbiased assessment. All case materials are indicative of my being innocent. I do hope for a fair, just and lawful acquittal.
“I am 27 years old; six of them have been dedicated to my favourite profession – journalism.
Last summer I became a journalist reporting from a hot spot. Every time I was at work, I risked not only my freedom, but my health and life as well. My family had to accept the probability of my not returning home someday. And yet I kept delving into a whirlpool of events in order to provide the viewers with full and uncensored information. I repeatedly managed to dodge the rubber bullets and went on reporting, I continued performing my professional duties.
Some of my colleagues were not so lucky. They were kicked in the stomach, they got their noses broken, they were shot at from a distance of several metres. And no criminal case has yet been instituted over the facts of violence against journalists, as well as against protesting civilians.
On November 11, 31-year-old Raman Bandarenka was killed for not allowing unknown citizens to cut off white-red-white ribbons on the playground.
On November 15, the people who were appalled by that evil deed took to the streets to protest. I showed those events in the Square of Change in a live broadcast on Belsat TV, which resulted in my being locked up on a fabricated and preposterous charge. The evidence presented in court fully proves my innocence. I did not organise actions that perturb the peaceful order, I did not incline anyone to break the law, I did not commit any crime. And it is obvious to the overwhelming majority of those present in this courtroom.
High Court, I suppose that in most cases you saw in this cage the persons who suffered a complete flop in their lives. But the current situation is different. I am young, I do have my favourite profession, achievements, reputation, and what is the most important – my conscience is clear. And I want to focus my efforts exclusively on creating something in Belarus, on serving the country, a Belarus where there will be no place for political repressions, where there will be no persecution for honest journalism, for the truth.
I do not ask, but I demand you acquit and release me and my colleagues. Freedom for Darya Chultsova, freedom for Katsyaryna Barysevich, freedom for Ihar Losik, Ale Sharko, Yuliya Slutskaya, freedom for hundreds of political prisoners! Thank you.“
13:40 The verdict is be delivered on February 18 at 10:00 (Minsk time).