“Any dissenter in Belarus can fall under a criminal article.” Relatives of detained journalists – on the persecution of independent media

Searches were carried out in the office of the Belarusian independent news agency BelaPAN in Minsk as part of a criminal case against the former deputy director of the agency, journalist Andrei Aleksandrov. Together with his girlfriend Irina Zlobina, he was detained on January 12. Now they are suspects in the case of violation of public order in Minsk, both are in a pre-trial detention center in Akrestsin Street.

The non-state newspaper Novy Chas was denied distribution through the kiosks of Belsoyuzpechat, the state-owned and largest press distribution network in the country. The independent general political weekly Novy Chas has been published in Belarus since 2002 in the Belarusian language. The employees of the newspaper learned by chance that Belsoyuzpechat had terminated the contract with the publication. They were not informed of the reasons for the termination.

All this is a continuation of the repressions against independent Belarusian media.

In 2020, mainly since the beginning of the presidential election campaign, journalists were detained 477 times in the country, they received administrative arrests 97 times, and 15 people are under criminal prosecution. In total, the journalists spent 1,200 days in isolation wards – for doing their job professionally. Access to 50 media sites was blocked, four newspapers were no longer published. Now nine journalists are in jail.

Independent media journalists recorded a video message demanding the immediate release of their colleagues from the detention centers, an end to their persecution and the punishment of those responsible.

Daria Losik, her husband, founder of the telegram channel “Brain Belarus” Igor Losik, has been on a hunger strike in the pre-trial detention center for a month now, and Igor Ilyash, a political observer, spoke about the persecution of journalists and the pressure exerted on them by the authorities. a journalist of the Belsat TV channel: he himself was persecuted, in addition, his wife Yekaterina Andreeva was detained in a criminal case.

– Daria, what do you know about the investigation of Igor’s case?

– Igor is charged with Article 293, Part 2, imprisonment for a term of three to eight years. As far as I know, no investigative actions are being carried out now, and when the case approaches the court, I also do not know.

– Igor, the investigation into Katerina’s case is over, as I understand it. Do you know when the trial will begin and what exactly is being imputed to her? What actions does the investigation regard as organizing riots?

– Yes, the investigation was completed at the end of last year. The case file went to court this week. No court date has been set yet, nor even a judge has been determined. But the court, according to the norms of the Criminal Procedure Code, should take place within a month after the materials are submitted to the court. We, in principle, have an idea of ​​what actions the investigation qualifies as a gross violation of public order, as its article sounds.

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Just yesterday, a slanderous material was released on the state Belarusian television in relation to my wife Katerina Andreeva, where she is called almost the leader of the rebels, the organizer of the riots. And it points to those phrases from the stream (she was arrested for conducting a stream from “The Square of Changes”), which allegedly qualify the investigation as organizing riots.

This is just a journalistic report, where she describes what is happening in front of her eyes, what the media and telegram channels are writing about at that moment. That is, this is a completely ordinary journalistic work. And this is qualified, as in some completely absurd Orwellian world, as a criminal offense – that she was fulfilling her professional duties.

Including she is accused of the fact that she, while reporting, stepped on the roadway. In Belarus, this is now what immediately entails criminal prosecution. If, during a protest action, a person simply steps onto the roadway, this is almost immediately a criminal prosecution. And this is an absurd, monstrous, completely unthinkable accusation only on the basis of the fact that she was reporting.

– Daria, your husband Igor has been on hunger strike for a month now. This means that he does not eat, but only drinks water. This is not only damage to his health, but already a matter of life and death. Did you try to dissuade him?

“Well, of course I tried. Every time I try to convey my persuasions through a lawyer, I write letters to him. I also called on everyone to whom I could write letters to him, to persuade him to end the hunger strike. But he doesn’t listen to anyone. And today the lawyer reported that only a couple of letters have been given to him so far. Why the letters are still not being transmitted is difficult for me to understand. It seems to me that it would be a plus for the Zhodino prison if he stopped his hunger strike. But, apparently, they decided there somehow differently.

– Igor, and your wife Katya is in what condition? Moral, physical?

“A lawyer visited her today. According to the latest data, both physical and moral condition are satisfactory. She does not complain about her health condition. Fortunately, the allergic attacks that occurred at the beginning of her stay in Zhodino did not recur. The psychological state is good. She has a fighting spirit, cheerful. She is actively preparing for the trial, thinking over her tactics of behavior in court. So in this regard, it’s a sin to complain, Katya is doing very well.

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– Igor, Daria, do you understand why the authorities imprison your spouses, what is the motive? Daria, what do you think?

– What is the motive? Because the authorities really do not like it when they tell the truth and in general any information that contradicts the opinion of the authorities. Therefore, any dissenting person in the Republic of Belarus can fall under any criminal article. Probably, the Criminal Code opens and scrolls through – and it depends which article is suitable for this person. For example, I cannot find any logical explanation for everything that is happening.

– Maybe the authorities, pursuing your spouses, are trying to show other journalists that try, go against us. Igor?

– Yes, this is definitely an indicative moment. Using the example of my wife and Daria Chultsova, who was detained along with her for reporting, for streaming from “Square of Changes”, this is such a vivid message from the special services to all journalists that your work at protest actions, especially an attempt to broadcast live, is something that will immediately be harshly pursued. And, of course, in this case, this is not only personal revenge on my wife, but also an indicative message for all journalists, all media representatives.

– Daria, what is the outcome of this all do you expect? I understand, I would like him to come out as soon as possible and forget everything. But nevertheless, given what the authorities are doing, do you think everything will end?

– For me now, the main goal is for my husband to stop the hunger strike. How it can end, I honestly cannot say. Because every day is unpredictable and full of some unpleasant events. But I still want to believe in a good ending to this whole scary story.

– Igor, and you?

– We will certainly insist on the complete acquittal of Catherine, because she did not commit any illegal actions. And in a state governed by the rule of law, the court would have acquitted her one hundred percent. And people who took it into their head to initiate a criminal case on the basis of a journalistic stream would simply be dismissed from law enforcement agencies for incompetence. However, we live in a dictatorship, and everything is not so simple in this situation. And I would not like to make a forecast for the trial. Still, I am an interested person, like a relative, it is difficult for me to make such predictions. But speaking in the long term, I am sure that everything will be fine with us, me and Catherine, our loved ones. We will win anyway and we will be together.

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The attitude towards journalists of the state media in Belarus is different. On January 11, Alexander Lukashenko handed out state awards to them. Among these people, for example, Grigory Azarenok, a 25-year-old journalist of the STV TV channel, was awarded the medal “For Courage”. Traditionally, it is awarded to servicemen for courage shown in a combat situation in defending the Fatherland, protecting the constitutional rights of citizens, and in rescuing people during emergency situations.

On STV, Azarenok hosts the Secret Springs of Politics program and is known for his propaganda stories. In April 2020, in one of them, he said that COVID-19 is “a biological weapon of the West against its enemies.” Later this video was closed for showing outside Belarus.

Azarenok including the author of the “investigation” of the death of Roman Bondarenko. On November 11, a 31-year-old resident of Minsk in the courtyard of his house was abducted and beaten by unknown persons in civilian clothes, he was hospitalized from the police department in a coma and died a day later. The Interior Ministry called the incident a “courtyard conflict” and “confrontation of views.” A criminal case has not yet been initiated due to Bondarenko’s death. Thousands of Belarusians after the death of Roman go to the “Square of Changes” – the courtyard where he was kidnapped – to honor his memory. The security forces patrol the area and periodically detain civilians. Azarenok in his film claims that Roman was injured in a yard fight and was allegedly drunk.

ONT TV journalist Igor Tur received the Francysk Skaryna medal. It is awarded in Belarus to workers in science, education and culture. On the TV channel Tur has a column “To be completed” with monologues about the opposition.

Back in July, when Tikhanovskaya, Kolesnikova and Tsepkalo held a press conference of the joint headquarters and posed in front of the cameras with the gestures “force”, “victoria” and “love”, ONT Tour deciphered these symbols in its own way: “Pretty girls, every In their own way. Surely talented. But we are talking about methodology. Instead of developing a political program, the ladies launched an alternative interpretation of the Hollywood gesture “mockingjay” on the Internet. And they did not really explain the meaning. It seems that it is proposed to “love”, “beat” and ” cut”.

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