Journalist Is Fined for Information about Electoral Crimes
On 23 November 2003, during the additional election to Belaaziorsk Town Deputy Soviet, Tamara Shchapiotkina, journalist of the newspaper “Gazeta Dlia Vas” was at one of the polling station. There, in presence of OSCE representatives, the National Assembly, Swedish journalist Tobias Lungval and other people, she stated that the head of this polling station Natallia Pratasevich had been tried by the court for violation of electoral legislation during the election to local Deputy Soviets that was held on 3 March 2003 and this time was again appointed the head of the polling station electoral commission. The journalist asked N. Pratasevich how it happened that the head of the electoral commission, who had violated the law, was again put at the head of the commission. Besides, Tamara Shchapiotkina informed the present public that the head of Biaroza District Electoral Commission Miadzvedz was also tried for violations of the electoral legislation during the election to local Deputy Soviets and then was again appointed the head of the district commission.
As a result, Nina Pratasevich sued the journalist. She considered this information to be “distribution of the information that insults honor and dignity (part 1 of article 153 of the Civil Code of the Republic of Belarus).
On 16 April Judge of Biaroza District Court Alena Niamkova considered the case. The sides discussed the understanding of the term “tried by the court”. The plaintiff stated that it was a synonym to “convict” and meant criminal punishment and that all persons present at the polling station understood it that way. “This talk had a wide resonance and now many of my acquaintances asked whether I really had a conviction. Having been a school director for many years, I think that these rumors about conviction insult my honor, dignity and business reputation”, -- testified Nina Pratasevich.
Tamara Shchapiotkina said: “Being an honest person I decided to give publicity to the fact that the head of the polling station commission hade been “tried by court”.
Finally, Judge Alena Niamkova took the side of the plaintiff and partially satisfied the suit of N. Pratasevich stating that the court “concludes that Shchapiotkina, having no juridical education, distributed information about “conviction” of Pratasevich that weren’t real” and decided to exact from the journalist 300 000 rubles for compensation of moral harm and 190 000 rubles of state fee.
Tamara Shchapiotkina didn’t agree with this decision and filed a cassation complaint where it was said: “Article 45 of the Criminal Code of Belarus gives the juridical definition of the term “convict” as the legal status of the person after committing a crime… The expression “tried by court” has a different sense – it says only that a person was tried by court, not by some other organ… I wanted to know why N. Pratasevich was again appointed the head of the polling station commission after the violations she had committed before.