Vitsebsk Regional Court turns down appeals in photo session case
The Vitsebsk Regional Court has heard the appeals of local journalists and activists who were fined for unauthorized picketing as a result of a photo session on November 5. The appeals were dismissed by the court, who did not accept the arguments that it was not picketing, but a photo shoot and upheld the ruling of the Chuhynachny district court.
The convicted journalists and activists asked the Vitsebsk Regional Court to quash the fines handed down to them and to stop the proceedings instituted for being photographed without the approval of local authorities. They argued that the photo shoot was not picketing, and the action did not fall under the law on mass events. And even if police officer Aliaksandr Rybakou, who said that the photographs had signs of “an expression of public and private interests”, then this right is enjoyed by every citizen of the Republic of Belarus.
None of these arguments was not taken into account by judges of the Regional Court. Appeals by six participants were heard by different judges: Iryna Smaliakova, Sviatlana Ivanova and Eduard Martsirasian. However, they arrived at the same conclusions: the ruling of the Chyhunachny district court was left in place.
According to these rulings, six persons, who were photographed against the backdrop of urban graffiti, journalists Alena Stsiapanava, Alena Shabunia, Dzmitry Kazakevich, Kanstantsin Mardsvintsau, human rights defender Pavel Levinau and opposition activist Tatsiana Seviarynets received fines of between 18 and 25 basic units.
Piotr Biarlinau, a passer-by who joined the photo session, was sentenced to three days in jail. His appeal to the Regional Court has also been dismissed.
Human rights activist Pavel Levinau believes that Vitsebsk authorities have started a very dangerous trend:
“Now there is an example of how for taking photos in the streets of the city you can become an offender. Participants of our photo session were simply photographed against graffiti that depicted three cages and three birds that were leaving the cages. We have decided to continue the idea of an unknown artist – we were photographed with paper cages and birds in our hands. As a result, we stood trials. According to court decisions, it was for violating the law on mass events. And in reality, because were photographed without the permission of the district authorities. So, now everyone, including tourists who visit Vitsebsk, must not later than 15 days appeal to the district administration for permission to take photographs?”