Mass Media Week in Belarus. Info-posting October 26 – November 8, 2015

08.11.2015 Source: The Monitoring Service of the Belarusian Association of Journalists

The UN Special Rapporteur on Belarus Miklós Haraszti presented the report on freedom of expression in Belarus to the UN General Assembly. Independence of the media in Belarus is impossible because of the permit-based nature of registration and arbitrary rules for withdrawal of licenses, says the report.

The main conclusions of the report are as follows: there is no pluralism of mass media; Belarus is the only country in Europe without private all-national broadcasters; the government is a direct regulator for all types of mass media; critical expression and investigations are obstructed through criminalization of contents regarded as “harmful for the state”, with the help of the articles on criminal defamation and insult of public officials, in particular, of the president.

On October 26, the Asmiany customs office informed the lawyer from Homel Leanid Sudalenka that no signs of extremism had been found either in his laptop or the print products seized from him, so he could come up and take them back. We remind that the equipment and print products were seized from him on May 25, when Sudalenka was coming back from Vilnius, from the forum on non-commercial law. He complained against the seizure to the Ashmiany district court, but the court dismissed the complaint.

On October 29, the KGB published the press release that a special operation had been held to detain a group of people who eavesdropped on businessmen, politicians, journalists of state-run and independent media for three years. According to the report, the KGB held over 80 searches, revealed around 1500 purchasers of unlawful services. For three years, the detainees conducted bugging and eavesdropping, cracking e-mails and accounts for communications in Skype, Viber, WhatsApp, of social accounts. Special equipment and foreign currency were confiscated. Criminal cases have been initiated against the suspects under art. 376, part 2 of the Criminal Code (unlawful production, purchase or sales of means of secret obtaining of information, organized by a group of people in conspiracy). The article envisages an imprisonment of up to 4 years. Also, there have been over 20 criminal cases against purchases of the services under art. 203 of the Criminal Code (violation of privacy of correspondence, phone calls and other type of communication, postal, telegraph or other messages). The KGB was carrying out operational-search and investigative activities aimed to reveal and document other episodes of the unlawful activities of the suspects, and to establish all clients of the criminal group and the people affected by the activities.

On October 28, the Council of Ministers extended the accreditation for the European Radio for Belarus for one more year, until November 10, 2016. The Euroradio started to broadcast on February 2006, the first accreditation was obtained on November 2009.

We remind that two outlets specifically designed for Belarusian audiences – the Radio Racyja and Belsat – have long time requested accreditation to work in Belarus, but got refusals only. The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović emphasized the issue during the visit on September 15 – 16, 2014, calling on the authorities to abolish the outdated procedure of accreditation which violates people’s right to access information.

On November 3, it became known about another episode of pressure on Ihar Barysau, the editor of the newspaper Nash Mahilow. “After the police failed to hold him accountable under the criminal and administrative law, tax inspectors started to work on him,” reports the website eurobelarus.info. Tax inspectors questioned the editors’ acquaintances, friends and others. On October 28, an unknown man tried to enter his flat under the pretext it was a seasonal check-up of communications; whereas the communal enterprise denied that there were being held any check-ups at that moment, and neighbors also said nobody visited them with the same purpose.

On November 4, the freelancer from Hrodna, BAJ member Ales Dzianisau faced a ban to work and take pictures in the exhibition hall, at the opening of an exposition of the French travel photographer Françoise Hughier. The director of the exhibition hall Iryna Silvanovich did not allow the journalist to enter the venue. Meanwhile, there were representatives of other independent mass media at the event.

We remind that these were Iryna Silvanovich and her husband, artist Aliaksandr Silvanovich who were summoned to testify as witnesses in court against the freelancers Ales Dzianisau and Aliaksandr Kirkevich in August 2015. Then, the journalists were fined 25 b.a. each for that they had made a report about a puppet exhibition in the same hall for Belsat TV channel, and thus violated art. 22.9 of the Administrative Code.