April 9 Minsk Department of the Investigative Committee searched the apartment used by employees of Belsat satellite TV channel.
The search that lasted for about 4 hours and left the office in complete mess led to the seizure of two system units, three laptops and all data storage devices.
According to the Investigative Committee, the search was conducted as part of the criminal case on account of dissemination of defamatory information on the channel's website. Journalists believe that the ground for the prosecution was the mistake made by the channel in 2018, when their website published an article on corruption, erroneously referring to the chairman of the State Forensic Examinations Committee Andrei Shved.
Later, the TV channel published a retraction and an apology. However, a criminal case on the account of slander was started.
The opinion of the Belarusian Association of Journalists has remained unchanged for such category of cases since 2002.
The organization stands for the decriminalization of seven defamation articles in the Criminal Code: slander, insult, defamation of the President, insult of the President, insult of a government official, discrediting the Republic of Belarus, and insult of a judge.
The use of criminal prosecution for protection of honor and dignity is disproportionate. Searches of journalists' homes and media offices interfere with the freedoms negating the right of journalists to protect their sources of information. In recent months, it has become almost the norm for the enforcement forces. In our opinion, such cases are to be heard exclusively within the civil law process.
International organizations regularly recommend to the Belarusian government to remove the above mentioned articles from the Criminal Code. Most recently, such recommendations were given following the consideration of Belarus report on the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by the UN Human Rights Committee in 2018.
The Belarusian Association of Journalists urges the government of Belarus:
- to implement the recommendations of international organizations in the field of freedom of expression and decriminalize defamation;
- to stop prosecuting the media under defamatory articles of the Criminal Code;
- to stop the criminal case of slander and return the seized equipment to the representatives of Belsat TV Channel.
The Board of the Belarusian Association of Journalists