Police Officers Ignore the Law

2014 2014-05-22T13:56:43+0300 2014-05-22T13:56:43+0300 en

The monitoring service of BAJ has noticed a wave of pressure on journalists being underway in the regions of Belarus. Journalists are summoned, warned against and in some cases are fined under charges of violating article 22.9 of the Administrative Code - “unlawful production and distribution of mass media products”.

The deputy chair of BAJ, lawyer Andrei Bastunets:

“I don't think that this is in someway related to the hockey championship, because the problems arise not in Minsk, where the event is taking place, but in other cities of the country. Remember cases with Alena Stsiapanava and Sviatlana Stsiapanava in Vitebsk, with Ales' Dzianisau, Andrei Mialeshka and, probably Ales' Zaleuski in the Hrodna region.

(On May 19, Ales' Zaleuski, on-staff journalist of Belsat TV channel, was summoned appear in a court of the Karelichy district, Hrodna region, as an accused in an administrative case. The journalist had not been informed of any administrative cases against him, had not been questioned either. At the hearing on the next day, May 20, the journalist motioned to out off the hearing which was upheld; so the next date of the hearing is May 28.)

I don't know what the reasons are for these actions, whether they are coordinated from any center or just an absurd “regional initiative”. 

“Here I see at least two serious problems.

The first one is that it looks enough weird and ridiculous when reports for violating the media law are produced by police officers. Most of whom, I'm convinced, haven't even seen the law.

The second issue is independence and competence of the judiciary when hearing these cases.

I am sure that in the case of Dzianiasau (here the court ruling has already entered into legal force) and the first instance court and the cassational court issued their verdict without going into details about the terminology of the law and without addressing to the Constitution. Unfortunately, our courts do not view the Constitution as the supreme law, which is also confirmed by the fact that no judiciary have ever motioned to scrutinize the constitutionality of a law in the Constitutional Court.

Law enforcement agencies and courts in fact equate journalists to editorial offices of mass media, accusing them of “unlawful production and distribution of media products”. But journalists do not produce a media product. A media product is the whole circulation of a print mass medium, or a TV or radio program as a whole. According to the law on mass media, journalists prepare materials, an informational report for mass media, which then serves as a basis for an editorial office to create this media product. To put it simply, a journalist's product is an article, a story, material, from which the editorial office later on makes its production. So, only an editorial office can be held accountable under this article, but not an individual journalist.

I still can assume that officials at the police don't know the media law, and that not all courts are prepared for such cases (and the mechanism to correct mistakes, in the form of cassations and supervision, works in Belarus like a statistical error). But how can one explain that the bodies in charge of the administrative processes not only fail to know substantive law, but also ignore procedural law? Law enforcement agencies must know it by heart!

For example, in the case of Ales' Zaleuski, he had not been summoned for the report to be drawn up. And he had not received the report within three days, as the Procedural-Executive Code demands. However the court, instead of pointing to this violation and sending the report for completion, accepted it and even kept on working in the same style – summoned the journalist to court by phone, instead of sending the document.