BAJ Protest against the Practice of Fining Journalists for Work

07.07.2015 Source: Press service of the Belarusian Association of Journalists Story: Article 23.5 of the Code of Administrative Violations

Belarusian Association of Journalists strongly protests against the increasing administrative prosecution of freelance journalists whose materials are published in foreign mass media.

In 2015, 22 fines have already been imposed on journalists for this “violation”, meanwhile only in June there were 8 of them. In 2014 there were 10 such cases.

In the first week of July Ales Liauchuk was fined for 50 basic amounts, and he faces two more analogical administrative cases on June 9 and 10.

The total sum of the fines imposed on journalists in 2015 amounted to 117 million rubles.

In contradiction with the Law on Mass Media, the police and courts extend the obligation to get accreditation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on freelance journalists, who are not staff journalists of foreign mass media. Then, the authorities unreasonably qualify activities without such accreditation as a violation of the procedures of production and publication of mass media products (according to part 2 of art. 22.9 of the Code on Administrative Violations). Meanwhile, mass media products are produced by editorial offices, and information is distributed by mass media, not by journalists themselves. Based on definitions of the Law on Mas Media, journalist is not a subject producing or distributing mass media products. Accordingly, he cannot be held liable for violating this article.

Moreover, holding freelance journalists liable for cooperation with foreign mass media without accreditation violates the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus and international legal obligations of the state. Article 34 of the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus ensures citien rights to get, store and disseminate full, true and timely information about activities of state bodies, public associations, and about political, economic and cultural life, about the environment. The same is stated by art. 19 of the ICCPR ratified by Belarus, according to which  every person has the right to search, obtain and disseminate information of different kinds and ideas regardless of state borders verbally, in written form or by print and artistic means, or by any other means of personal choice.

Restriction of these rights, according to the Constitution and the ICCPR, is possible only for certain reasons, i.e. for protection of honor, dignity, personal and family life of citizens and for full enjoyment of their rights. However, in all cases against journalists under art. 22.9 the reasoning for liability was not unlawfulness of the contents of their matrials, but the very fact that their materials were published in foreign outlets.

We would like to draw attention that in the global world prosecution of journalists for publication of their materials in foreign mass media violates not only the journalists’ constitutional and professional rights, but also the rights of all citizens to get and disseminate information.

Before the presidential elections in Belarus, increasing pressure on journalists creates a discouraging environment for the electoral campaign and casts doubts on freedom of expression for it in the mass media.

The Belarusian Association of Journalists calls on the following actors:

-  Heads of the Ministry of Home Affairs and the KGB – to consider lawfulness of actions of their employees in the cases mentioned above. Instead of fighting crimes and protecting the constitutional order, dozens of employees of the MHA and the KGB stage a real hunt for journalists who do not encroach on anyone’s lawful rights and interests;

-  Courts of the Republic of Belarus – while considering cases to be guided by the Constitution of Belarus and international treaties ratified by Belarus; to disallow broad interpretation of legal acts of Belarus envisaging responsibility;

-  The Supreme Court of Belarus – to pay attention to the unconditional observance of hierarchy of legal acts by courts of lower instance, and on independence of courts while issuing decisions. In many administrative cases, it was unclear how materials of previous cases were attached. Appearances of such “samples of decisions” in court hearings can be regarded as pressure on courts;

-  The prosecutor’s offices of Belarus – to protest against rulings contradicting to legal acts in the administrative cases under art. 22.9, part 2;

-  The Constitutional Court of the Republic of Belarus – to initiate procedures to eliminate gaps, legal collisions and uncertainty in the legal acts that regulate obtaining and dissemination of information by Belarusian citizens, also regardless of state borders.

Adopted by the Board of BAJ

July 7, 2015

Fines to Journalists for Violating Article 22.9 of the Administrative Code (Chart) (Updated)

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