On Monday, Zmitser Lupach, a freelance journalist from the town of Hlybokaye, was heavily fined and sentenced to 10-day jail term. After the trial, the Belsat contributor needed emergency medical treatment.
On May 8, three policemen – two plainclothed and one uniformed (major Syarhei Tsyrban) – came to the office and ordered Lupach to follow them, promising that it ‘would not take much time’. However, the journalist who was put in the predetention centre on the same day had to spend the weekend in a windowless cell.
“Zmitser Lupach was charged under Art. 22.9 of the Code of Administrative Offences (illegal production and distribution of media products), i.e. for working without accreditation. He got a fine of 1,215 rubles (nearly $500). Zmitser was also tried for his alleged participation in a mass event, and he was punished with ten days in custody,” Pavel Levinau, a lawyer at the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), told Belsat TV.
It should be noted that Zmitser Lupach was present at last week’s rallies, but he just performed his journalistic duties by filming and covering the protests.
The defendant wrote an application, asking the court for a copy of the ruling. However, a copy was given only to the police.
“In addition, the journalist appealed to the court for suspending the sentence for three days due to his health problems. The court accepted the application, but refused to consider the appeal,” Levinau added.
On the heels of the hearing, Zmitser Lupach became sick as he had had high blood pressure since early morning. His friends called an ambulance to the court; paramedics took him to hospital. Notably, the policemen were following the ambulance car for the fear that Lupach could escape.
(UPD) According to the updated information, now the journalist is in intensive care.
“The doctors say that Zmitser needs to be under medical supervision, that is why he has been put in the intensive care unit. We hope that he will recover. The medics do not have his old cardiograms at the moment, they need to understand [what happened to him]. They want to prevent the development of preinfarction syndrome. They managed to reduce his high blood pressure, he is a shade better now. A few days ago, hypertension started to ail him, he was taking medicines,” Zmitser Lupach’s wife Zhanna told Belsat.
Belsat TV, which has been broadcasting for over 12 years, has been denied accreditation for its journalists. The Belarusian Foreign Ministry has repeatedly declared that it could not issue any accreditation to Belsat because the journalists working for the TV station … break the law.
Thus, the circle closes: journalists are denied accreditation because they break the law and they break the law, because they work without accreditation that they seek. And it explains the existence of absurdist Article 22.9, which provides punishment for ‘illegal production and distribution of media products’. If one has accreditation, they are allowed to perform journalistic duties, if not – their activity is outlawed.