90 detentions, $74K fines in 2 years. Belsat keeps calm and carries on in spite of persecution

11 years ago, on 10 December 2007, Belsat TV started broadcasting. Then our team set a number of goals, i.e contributing to Europeanisation and democratization of Belarus; covering the news without exercising any censorship; broadcasting in the Belarusian language.

Even before the beginning of our activity the authorities treated us as enemies, In March 2007, Belarusian president Alyaksandr Lukashenka called Belsat a ‘stupid, uncongenial and unfriendly project’.

Persecution on weekly basis, but we are not going to give up

Over the past two years, our contributors have got fines totalled to $74,353; most of them were imposed in Minsk and Homiel regions. In addition, the police and security services launch raids, prevent journalists from appearing at the scene, take them to police stations and then force to pay hefty fines.

Map of detentions and fines

‘They wanted me to strip in front of camera’

Journalist Volha Czajczyc, who has become Belsat TV Person Of the Year, has been summoned to court almost every month in 2018. Volha focuses on street protests and social problems. She has constantly been under pressure for her scorching reports from different parts of the country bringing up a lot of uncomfortable issues. In 2018, eleven administrative cases have been opened, which has resulted in imposing heavy fines on her.

“When I was being detained [in the town of Barysau], the situation was being filmed by a plainclothes officer. As a person of the opposite sex, he had no right to be present during personal inspection. After replacing him by a camerawoman, they were attempting to force me to undress in front of the camera. But then I managed to assert my rights, which came as a surprise to them,” Volha said.

Belsat TV contributors Volha Czajczyc and Syarhei Kavaliou

In 2017, Belsat TV contributors paid 31 penalties out of 35 slapped on independent journalists under Article 22.9 of the Administrative Code (illegal production and distribution of media products).

For the recent three years, Ales Zaleuski, who came to the notice of Belarusian Interior Minister Ihar Shunevich, has had about a dozen unpleasant situations with police officers.

Zaleuski used to be host of Belsat TV program Human Affairs dedicated to acute problems of ordinary Belarusians. Support and assistance were often provided to its guests; for example, Belsat helped to raise money for Alena Kukol, who was going to sell her kidney to make both ends meet.

Ales Zaleuski

A few months ago, Ales made a news story which stressed that a brother of the youngest Belarusian general was involved in the so-called doctors’ case. In turn, the top-ranking officer filed a 25-sheet complaint to Minister Shunevich asking to punish Zaleuski.

On 25 March 2017, when a Freedom Day protest rally was brutally dispersed, Ales was taken into the paddy wagon, but he managed to leave. quickly get out of there.

“Amid Freedom Day-2017 celebrations, I was detained thrice: on the day before, on the day of the rally and in the wake of it,” he said.

As a result, the police grabbed the crew, and he, along with dozens of other detainees, found himself in Tsentralny district police station. A bit later, police officers forced them to take off outer clothing, go outside and spend some time facing the wall.

Regions also closely watched

Milana Kharytonava and Ales Lyauchuk

The Belarusian regime is trying to do their best to prevent Belsatters from performing their professional duties. Our visiting small villages and showing their misery infuriate them, since there are proofs of Lukashenka’s untalented rule.

In the spring of 2017, when there was a wave of protests against the so-called ‘parasite’ decree throughut the country, journalist Ales Lyauchuk and camerawoman Milana Kharytonava were brutally detained by the traffic police in the town of Kobryn.

“When we stopped, we had 6-8 people rush towards us. They said they were from the anti-drug unit and started pulling us out of the car, said Ales. They smashed all our equipment”.

In Kobryn police department, protocols were drawn on Ales and Milana for “disobeying the police” and “On violation of mass media law”. Police officers confiscated our colleagues’ broken equipment and even threatened them with murder.

“They promised to kill us,” Lyauchuk stressed.

Interestingly, some passers-by managed to film the detention, but then the police made them remove the videos.

Our crew in action

Within the last three months, the duo has been constantly harassed by the authorities. According to the Belsat crew, the pressure is unprecedented.

“The police are keeping watch over us. They are often spotted near our block of flat, in the stairway as well as at the places where we work. They ‘ambushed’ even near the school our daughter goes to! On their request, our telephone company provides them with the information about our location and movements,” Lyauchuk stressed.

All these actions and measures are aimed at silencing the independent TV station. The authorities are outraged over our reporting and publishing information they try hard to cover up – and we still have not been accredited in Belarus. But, we will continue to tell the truth and show what state-run media do not dare to show. Stay with Belsat!