Imprisoned Belsat TV contributors Katsyaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova have been honoured as European Journalists of the Year 2021 at Europe’s largest annual tri-medial festival and competition PRIX EUROPA. Our colleagues have been behind bars for over 11 months.
Hosted by the German broadcaster Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg (RBB), the high-profile event takes place in October; its organisers award the best European Television, Radio and Online productions each year.
The 2021 awarding ceremony was held Potsdam on October 15. In his speech, Can Dündar, a Turkish media worker in exile and European Journalist of the Year 2017, thanked our colleagues for courage and will to report independently, for letting people know about the events in Belarus, for keeping up the voice of independent journalism and of freedom of speech in circumstances that demand otherwise, for risking their lives to do ther work as well as for telling the truth.
“It is important to stand firmly behind the principles of democracy, human rights and the freedom of the press. And to support those who are fighting for these principles. Dear Katsyaryna Andreyeva, dear Darya Chultsova, it is with this in mind that we at PRIX EUROPA want to support your fight and honour you with the title European Journalist of the Year,” he said.
Belsatters Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova were nominated for the award by the Polish Public Television (TVP). The initiative won widespread support of the journalistic community in the region, including in Belarus, Lithuania, Ukraine. About 200 media representatives signed up for the nomination of the two journalists.
‘European Journalist of the Year’ is the seventh international award that Katsyaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova received during the year. Previously, they became holders of 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’.
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).
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.
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.
In June, Andreyeva and Chultsova were transferred to the women’s penal colony in the Belarusian city of Homiel.