On June 22, Press Club Polska awarded this year’s Special Dariusz Fikus Prize to jailed Belsatters Darya Chultsova and Katsyaryna Andreyeva for their ‘persistent journalistic activity in the conditions that require great personal courage’.
According to the Polish media association, the special award is their ‘showing solidarity with all Belarusian journalists who have been repressed by the authorities’.
The award was established in 1997 by the Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita on the anniversary of the death of Dariusz Fikus, a well-known Polish journalist, editor and publisher. Since 2011, the award has been presented by Press Club Polska for ‘journalism of the highest order’. It is the first time in history that the prize has been given to foreign reporters.
In addition, at Tuesday’s awarding ceremony in Warsaw, the prize of International Association of Press Clubs for freedom of speech was conferred on political prisoner Yuliya Slutskaya, the founder of Press Club Belarus. In late December, she was arrested and taken into custody in Minsk.
The two Belsat contributors have been behind bars for over 200 days. Not long ago, they were placed in the women’s penal colony in the Belarusian city of Homiel. Before the transfer, Katsyaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova had been held in the remand prison in Zhodzina over two months; the prison authorities listed them as ‘persons prone to extremism’. In late April, Minsk City Court rejected their appeals, upholding the sentences imposed on them.
They 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.