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Review of Belarusian journalists’ arrests and detention in May

13.05.2020 Source: BAJ Press Service

At the moment, 4 journalists are serving arrests under Art. 23.34 Part 1 "Violation of the order of organization or holding mass events." 

May 11-12, different courts of the country tried participants of actions of solidarity with blogger Siarhei Tsikhanouski (YouTube-channel Country for living), who is now serving a 15-day detention). The reporters who were present during these actions of solidarity got arrested.

In Mahiliou, on May 6 people came to the building of the detention center after the arrest of the blogger.  About 100 people gathered to express their support to him. Mikhail Arshynski was livestreaming from the meeting. He was also present and posted a video from May 5, when several dozen people did not let police officers to detain Tsikhanouski's supporter on Vitebski Avenue.

 

Mikhail Arshynski is a blogger and freelancer. He cooperated with Belsat TV as a cameraman, as well as with the regional 6tv.by website. 

Mikhail Arshynski

The police drew up two reports on Arshynski, both for the violation of Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code of Belarus (participation in an unauthorized mass event). According to the authorities, public meetings with blogger Tikhanouski, as well as the gathering near the detention center on May 6 are considered mass events.

Arshynski was arrested May 7, he is in the detention center since that time.

May 12 Leninski district court of Mahiliou  sentenced the journalist to 11 days of detention, under charges of violating Article 23.34 Part 1 of the Administrative Code, (Violation of the order of organization or holding mass events).

Zmitser Salauyeu, chief editor of 6tv.by, witnessed in court that  Arshynski had just been doing his job: he had an assignment from the editor to cover the event.

However, judge Ratnikava sentenced the journalist to 11 days of detention.

 On May 11, another court (Kastrychnitski district court of Mahiliou )tried Arshynski on similar charges (Article 23.34 Part 1) The journalist was brought to court from the detention center. Judge Tatsiana Mikhailava sentenced him to 10 days of jail for "participation in an unauthorized mass event" —  for livestreaming from actions in support of the blogger on May 5/

Altogether, Arshynski will serve 21 days of arrest.

Ales Asiptsou is a freelance reporter of BelaPAN news agency. Located in Mahiliou, he arrived in Babruisk to cover the "Anti-Parade" drivers' protest planned for the Victory Day. The police arrested about 20 participants of the protest.

Ales Asiptsou

Maryna Malchanava, journalist from Babruisk, says they were in touch in the morning, they exchanged information of what was going on in the city. At 12:38 Maryna called him again. Asiptsou told her he was in the car with one of the protest participants driving around the city. After some time the journalist stopped answering the calls.

Asiptsou's wife and colleagues phoned the Babruisk police department, as well as traffic police, but were not given any reliable information about Ales. Instead, the police recommended his wife to report his disappearance.Only about 7 p.m. they informed his wife that he was in a temporary detention center in Mahiliou. No reasons for detention were given.

May 12 Kastrychnitski district court of Mahiliou heard the case of Ales Asiptsou. The journalist was charged with participation in an unauthorized mass event — the meeting of the team of the blog "A country for living" with their followers on May 5th.

Asiptsou explained that he was covering the public meeting as a reporter: he watched the events and took pictures to report on the event. He noted that he was marked by an appropriate badge, and had press credentials and an assignment from the editor. .

Court ruling: 10 days of arrest under Art. 23.34 Part 1 "Violation of the order of organization or holding mass events."

Ales Asiptsou has been on hunger strike since his arrest on May 9. After the trial Asiptsou said he would continue the hunger strike until the end of the sentence.

Alexander Burakou — cooperates with Deutsche Welle, has applied for accreditation, but was denied by the Belarusian Foreign Ministry.

Alexander Burakou

Burakou was arrested by police near the court building in Mahiliou on 8 May.

On 12 May the court heard his case. The reporter waited for the trial in a pre-trial detention facility.

Court ruling: 10 days of arrest under Art. 23.34 Part 1 "Violation of the order of organization or holding mass events."

According to the police report, on May 6 Burakou came to site of the temporary detention facility in a car with two other persons, where he took part in an unsanctioned mass event for "a little more than two minutes." Burakou was not oficially informed that the event was not authorized. Also, the police report does not clarify the type of mass event: a demonstration, rally, picket or march. In fact, people gathered in front of the detention center to find out about the fate of blogger Siarhei Tsikhanouski who had been arrested on May 5 after the meeting with his followers.

During the hearing Burakou provided convincing evidence that he had been present there as a reporter and a human rights defender, performing his professional duties.

 

Zmitser Lupach cooperates with Belsat TV and lives in Hlybokaye, Vitebsk Region.

Zmitser Lupach

On May 8, the police arrested Lupach in his office. They sent the journalist to a detention center to wait for trial.

May 11, Hlybokaye district court judge Dzmitry Tarasevich considered two administrative charges against Lupach:  Art. 22.9 Part 2( "illegal production and distribution of media products" - this is a charge for a different story produced by Lupach, not tied to blogger Tsikhanouski) and Art. 23.34 Part 1 ( "Violation of the order of organization or holding mass events", when he was covering a public meeting with the blogger). Court ruling: 10 days in jail and a fine of 45 basic values (about 480 euro), on the charges, respectively.

After the break, Zmitser's lawyer joined the trial. He found a lot of flaws in police reports and asked the judge to send them back for revision. However, but the judge decided to announce the ruling.

The journalist collapsed at the courthouse, and his wife called an ambulance, as his blood pressure was very high. The paramedics confirmed that Zmitser had a hypertensive crisis. The journalist was taken to the local hospital. The ambulance was followed by a police car.

On May 11-13, Lupach was in an intensive care unit of local hospital, he was diagnosed with a heart disease — cardiac angina. On May 13 Lupach was discharged from the intensive care unit.

Lupach's sentence — 10 days of jail was postponed to May 18.

This way, 4 persons are serving arrests under Art. 23.34 Part 1 "Violation of the order of organization or holding mass events."  In fact, the journalists were treated as participants of mass events. OSCE media freedom representative called for release of the journalists.

Law of the Republic of Belarus "On Mass Media" entitles journalists to be present at mass events, in emergency areas, at places of socially important events and pass on information from there. Thus, the journalists had the right to be present at the events and perform their work there.

Prosecution of colleagues for performance of their professional duties draws a strong protest in the professional community. We believe the use of administrative arrest as a penalty during the COVID-19 pandemic is especially cynical as it puts the health of the journalists at serious risk.

Belarusian Association of Journalists demands to release reporters and review their cases. Statement

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