For the first time in 20 years, the Belarusian delegation has presented its report on the measures taken to give effect to the rights recognized in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights at the 124th session of the UN Human Rights Committee.
The delegates had to go into detail on many subjects in different fields.
On October 9, Halina Suzdaleva, a representative of the Belarusian Investigative Committee and member of the delegation, said at the session that the journalists involved in high-profile BelTA copyright infringement case were held liable for nothing but ‘trivial hacking’. The prosecution is not politically motivated, she stressed.
“We take preventive measures against the citizens who break the law. We do not confiscate their property and do not keep them behind bars … Our agencies are authorised to detain [offenders] in every situation. One has the right to protect their interests. The prosecutor checks the legality of the arrest,” she said.
On August 7, an unprecedented wave of media workers’ arrests started in Belarus.
After Iryna Akulovich, Director of the state-run news agency BelTA, had reported ‘illegal access to their premium content’, the Belarusian Investigative Committee initiated a criminal case under the article ‘unauthorized access to computer information, made out of personal interest, which caused significant harm’. According to the authorities’ version, some employees of the above-mentioned media outlets have used another person’s password and got information owned by the Lukashenka mouthpiece over the past two years.
Tut.by journalists Halina Ulasik, Maryna Zolatava, Hanna Kaltyhina, Ulyana Babayed, Dzmitry Bobryk, Hanna Yermachonak, BelaPAN editors Tatsyana Karavyankova, Iryna Leushyna and Andrey Serada, Deutsche Welle correspondent Paulyuk Bykouski and the Belarusians and Market journalist Alyaksei Zhukau were detained. As part of the case, four journalists of the property portal realt.by were interrogated. A few days later, all the journalists were released from custody, but they are still under gag order. All the suspects in the BelTA case are banned from leaving the country.
According to a representative of the ministry, they deliberately studied other countries experience of Internet governance before introducing the amendments. She also called the Internet a ‘tool of war and manipulation’.
The major message of her speech was that making amendments was aimed at ‘protecting the citizens’. In view of it, they expanded the list of banned information (about drug use, promoting of pornography, suicides, etc).
“On the Internet, there are many attempts to blur the mentality, incite hatred, form radical views. In this connection, taking into account national security and protecting civil rights, we drafted the amendments to the Law on Mass Media. They will enter into force on December, 21.”
According to the Foreign Ministry, the domestic process of accrediting foreign journalists is less rigid and more transparent than in other countries. Moreover, the ministry expressed readiness to be as liberal as possible towards the accreditation of foreign journalists.
In 2016 only two journalists’ applications were turned down, no one was denied accreditation in 2017 . This year, two Russian and one Polish journalists have been rebuffed, a representative of the ministry stated.
Having heard the report, the members of the UN Human Rights Committee noted ‘undeniable progress’ in the Belarusian authorities’ acting. However, the Committee promised to check whether they were going in the right direction.
Belsat TV, which has been broadcasting for over 10 years, has been repeatedly denied accreditation for its journalists. The Belarusian Foreign Ministry 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 of the Administrative Code, which provides punishment for ‘illegal production and distribution of media products’. If you have accreditation, you are allowed be a journalist. If you do not have it – you are outlawed.
Because of the work in the ‘partisan’ conditions, Belsat employees are often on trial for illegal production of media materials (Article 22.9 of the Administrative Code) and work without accreditation. In 2017 alone, Belsat contributors paid to the state as much as $14,000 in fines. According to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, last year, 94% of fines for alleged illegal manufacturing of media materials fell on the journalists of Belsat.