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Wins and Fails of 2016, the legal side

11.01.2017 Source: Press service of BAJ

BAJ summed up the main events of 2016, the story retold by BAJ lawyer Aleh Aheyeu.

Last year legal assistance was provided in two main directions: legal defense of journalists and promotion of basic human rights in the sphere of free expression.

Major victories

The case of Anton Surapin: the journalist once held by the KGB for a month for publishing a photo of teddy bears dropped from a trespasser airplane, won the lawsuit to get compensation for illegal detention.

The case of Eduard Palchys: BAJ has not taken part directly in the process, though cooperated in several legal actions. Anyway, the case deserves mentioning as a feature of great solidarity among journalists. The blogger John Silver, who had gone undisguised and prosecuted for allegedly inciting national hatred, was found guilty, but was released in court.

In spring, finally the authorities stopped prosecuting freelance journalists for contributing to foreign media without accreditation, according to administrative article 22.9. The last trial of the kind took place in April 2016. National court dismissed all appeals and arguments; for the time being, two complaints have been lodged to the UN Human Rights Committee for the violation of the rights of citizens Larysa Shchyrakova and Kastus Zhukouski to gather and disseminate information freely.

An interesting case occurred in Babruysk, when the police wanted to bring to liability a journalist of Bobruyskij Courier for allegedly taking part in an unsanctioned picket that they covered. Luckily, the journalists proved their innocence with legal methods.

Failures

Unfortunately, there were failures as well. At the beginning, there were 10 fines imposed on journalists for contributing to foreign mass media without accreditation.

The most outrageous incident was when the police beat a journalist of TUT.by right in the building of court; no one was held liable for that.

The lawsuit of a dairy farm against Associated Press reporter has kept the public stunned since April 2016; the case is not over, the reporter is still appealing against the verdict.

On the positive side, state bodies were prone to cooperate with BAJ last year: for example, BAJ chairperson and lawyer Andrei Bastunets took part in the work of the Media Observation Board of the Central Electoral Commission handling media disputes in electoral campaigning (there were parliamentary elections in Belarus in September 2016).

Besides, some recommendations and indicators suggested by BAJ to the Universal Periodic Review of the UN were added to the interagency plan adopted by the government to implement the recommendations.

Another vast sphere of activities dealt with enlightening activities for journalists: educational events, seminars, legal examination of texts, etc. With all this, we hope, we get the decrease of detentions and arrests – for instance, there were only 13 detentions last year.

Plans for 2017

In 2017, we are planning to shift from direct defense of journalists under repressions to enhancing free speech space.

We defined several promising directions to change the situation at the legal level: for example, developing amendments to mass media legislation, ensuring access to information for journalists, and encouraging changes in law enforcement practice.

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