COURT FINES NARODNAYA VOLYA 25 THOUSAND USD
November 17 Minsk city court ruled to fine Belarus’ largest independent newspaper “Narodnaya Volya” 50 million Belarusian roubles (about 25 thousand Usd) in compensation of moral damages to the head of Belarusian state TV Yahor Rybakou. “Narodnaya Volya” journalist Marina Koktysh and former TV host Eleanora Yazerskaya who gave an interview to the newspaper were fined 3 million Belarusian roubles (about 1,5 thousand Usd) each.
The court has partially allowed Mr. Rybakou’s appeal to increase the amount of compensation of moral damages, raising it by five times for the newspaper – from 10 to 50 million Belarusian roubles and by three times for the journalist and the interviewee – from 1 to 3 million Belarusian roubles.
Although the trial was open, only 9 people were admitted to the courtroom and about 15 journalists and public activists remained behind closed doors. Deputy court chair Zinaida Valovik claimed, because of the building reconstruction it was impossible to hold the hearing in a bigger room or leave the doors open. The Komsomolskaya Pravda reporter was not allowed to pass a dictaphone to the courtroom, although the hearing was officially “open”.
Iosif Seredich, Editor-in-chief of “Narodnaya Volya”, calls the trial results “political order”. “The authorities are cleansing the information field to be able to hold the referendum, parliamentary and presidential elections without a single independent newspaper”, he comments
Mikhail Pastukhov, head of the BAJ Law Center for Media Protection, believes the court resolution is ungrounded, as no new facts were presented at the trial. Mr. Rybakou himself did not attend the court session, and his representative was removed from the court room. “I believe the court resolution doesn’t take into consideration the financial situation of the newspaper and other respondents”, Pastukhov says, stressing the necessity to appeal against the verdict.