Minsk City Court started considering the appeals by our imprisoned colleagues Katsyaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova at 10 am on Friday. Earlier, the Belarusian authorities found the live stream in which Katsya and Dasha showed a rally in memory of the murdered protester Raman Bandarenka and its brutal crackdown by security forces was a crime.
Several dozen persons were present at the hearing, but Katsyaryna and Darya were not taken to court. Defence lawyers Andrey Machalou and Alyaksandr Khayetski filed a motion to allow their participation via video link, but it was rejected.
One of he judges read out the defence’s complaints. According to them, one cannot qualify the events of November 15 as ‘actions that grossly violate public order’. In their opinion, the prosecution failed to present any facts of the journalists’ disobedience to officers’ lawful demands, which is a necessary condition for starting prosecution under this article. However, the verdict reads that the disobedience occurred. Moreover, they did not provide any proofs of the allegation that it was the Belsat crew’s actions that caused a traffic disruption on that Sunday. Moreover, Andreyeva and Chultsove did not take participate in the protest rally, they were just doing their job, the defence stressed.
In turn, public prosecutor Volha Herasimovich voiced her opinion that the two convicts’ guilt ‘was fully established’. In her view, the complaints about the lack of proofs are unfounded, because the defendants confirmed their presence at the ‘crime scene’. As the Belarusian Foreign Ministry refused to issue accreditation to them, they did not have the right to film anything, she believes.
Judges Alena Ananich and Pyotr Arlou ruled to uphold the sentences previously imposed on Katsyaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova and dismiss their appeals.
Lawyer Andrey Machalou announced their intention to file a supervisory appeal to the chairman of the Minsk City Court and – in case of its being dissatisfied – to the Supreme Court of Belarus. Andreyeva’s husband Ihar Ilyash said that a complaint to the UN Human Rights Council was in the making.
“I did not have any illusions – no miracle has happened. A fair trial and justice in Belarus have failed to come out of the blue. There have been no promptings of conscience. The people who are acting as judges [in Belarus] stopped having any qualms [about unrighteous sentences] long ago, ” he added.
Belsatters Katsyaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova have been behind bars for over five months. Today representatives of Belsat TV and the Belarusian diaspora in Poland are going to hold a picket of solidarity with the jailed colleagues as well as all independent journalists persecuted by the Belarusian authorities. The event is to kick off at 19.00 (local time) near the building of the Belarusian Embassy in Warsaw (Wiertnicza Street, 58).
They were arrested on November 15 for broadcasting live a violent dispersal of people paying tribute to 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).
The two Belsattters’ 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 mid March 16, the two journalists were transferred from the pre-trial detention centre Nr 1 in Minsk to the prison in the town of Zhodzina. It is an open secret that messages from outside give enourmous support and encouragement to a prisoner; that is why we urge our readers to send letters to the jailed journalists:
Кацярына Андрэева (Бахвалава): 222160 Беларусь, г. Жодзіна, вул. Савецкая, д. 22а / Katsyaryna Andreyeva (Bakhvalava): Savetskaya Street 22a, Zhodzina, 222160 Belarus
Дарʼя Чульцова: 222160 Беларусь, г. Жодзіна, вул. Савецкая, д. 22а / Darya Chultsova: Savetskaya Street 22a, Zhodzina, 222160 Belarus
Don’t forget to enclose an empty envelope so that the girls could respond to your letter. Thank you for your unindifference!