The trial of TUT.BY reporter Katsyaryna Barysevich and doctor Artsyom Sarokin started on February 19 in Maskouski district court of Minsk.
The journalist and the health professional are accused of disclosing private medical information. In accordance with Article 178-3 of the Criminal Code, they may be sentenced to up to three years of imprisonment.
According to our correspondent, about 200 people сame to the court to show support for the defendants. At 10 am, defence lawyers, relatives, state-run media representatives were let in the courtroom. As reported earlier, journalists from TUT.BY, Onliner, KP, BelaPAN, Office.life, other non-state media outlets were denied accreditation. Employees of the US, Germany’s, France’s embassies, as well as those of the EU Delegation to Belarus arrived to be present at the hearing.
Around 10:40, it became known that the hearing got closed to the press; the trial will be held in camera.
It is the prosecutor Lyudmila Ivanenka who requested a closed format ‘to avoid the disclosure of medical secrets and preliminary investigation data’. According to her, certain materials that have not yet been published are to be read out in the course of the court session.
“The case materials include medical documents, in particular, those that had not been made public before,” she said.
The people were outraged at the decision; those who gathered near the courtroom clapped their hands and chanted: ‘Shame!’
After the Prosecutor General’s Office opened a criminal case over allegedly ‘violating medical privacy which entailed grave consequences’ (Art. 178-3), TUT.BY reporter Katsyaryna Barysevich and doctor Artsyom Sarokin were arrested on November, 19.
In her article about the tragic death of Minsker 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. Its authenticity was later confirmed by Bandarenka’s mother. Government officials, including Alyaksandr Lukashenka, claim that Raman Bandarenka, who was beaten to death by unknown individuals on November 11, was in a state of intoxication. Notably, the mother allowed the publication of information about the death, including the data about the absence of alcohol in his blood.
Neither Sarokin nor Barysevich had been prosecuted before, the both Belarusian citizens have a permanent place of residence in the country as well as full-time employment. Their employers and colleagues gave excellent references to them. The judge and investigators are well aware of Artsyom Sarokin’s being a father of three and Katsyaryna Barysevich’s raising a minor daughter alone, but still, the strictest restraint measure (incarceration) was applied.
Belarusian and international human rights watchdogs have recognised Sarokin and Barysevich as political prisoners. They consider the persecution to be politically motivated.
Bandarenka’s murderers have not been found or identified yet. His family does not have any claims against the arrested journalist and doctor.