Vitsebsk journalists and activists keep appealing fines in photo session case
Having labeled a photo session on a background of graffiti as unauthorized picketing, the Chyhunachny District Court of Vitebsk fined six participants. Attempts to appeal this decision to the Regional Court have so far brought no success. The fines are now being appealed to the chairman of the Regional Court.
According to human rights activist Pavel Levinau, participants in the photoshoot decided to continue seeking justice. In case needed they will send their complaints to the United Nations Human Rights Committee:
“There have been attempts to challenge the decision of the court of first instance, but it did not work. Then we tried to write to the chairman of the Regional Court in order to postpone the execution of the decision until he reads our files. But here everyone also received denials. We decided to appeal to the District Court, so that they allowed us to pay the fine in installments, as the fined persons do not have such a big income to pay more than three million rubles at a time – and we were denied here, too.”
Pavel Levinau was one of the participants in the photo shoot, which took place in Vitsebsk in early November 2014. Several people were photographed against the background of a famous graffiti – three images of cells with paper birds leaving them. To continue the subject of freedom of the press, raised by an unknown artist, the people in the photographs were also holding paper cells and origami birds.
These photos were posted online on November 5, when the world marked an international solidarity campaign “Stand Up for Journalism”. The participants in the photoshoot, which included human rights activists, journalists and civil society activists, were fined as participants in unsanctioned picketing. The photo session was not noticed by the police, but two weeks after the appearance of photos on the Internet the activists were invited to the head of the department of prevention and protection of law and order of the Chyhunachny district police department Aliaksandr Rybakou. He questioned the participants, and, despite their explanations, charged them with an administrative offense.
As the activists stood trials, police Major Rybakou was the only witness. He said that the order to punish the people in the photos was received from the regional department of the Ministry of the Interior, and that, in his opinion, the participants of the photo shoot “expressed their social and political interests”. The fact that all people have the right to freely express their own thoughts was not taken into account by either the police officer or the court. A fine of 20 basic units was received by journalists Alena Stsiapanava (Judge Dzianis Hubanau), Kanstantsin Mardzvintsau (Judge Alena Tsyhankova), Dzmitry Kazakevich (Judge Alena Tsyhankova). A fine of 18 basic units was awarded to activist of the BCD’s organizing committee Alena Shabunia (Judge Dzianis Hubanau); BCD’s Vitsebsk coordinator Tatsiana Seviarynets and human rights defender Pavel Levinau were awarded a fine of 25 basic units (Judge Alena Tsyhankova). The same judge sentenced Vitsebsk resident Piotr Biarlinau, who joined the photo shoot, to three days of arrest.
None of the above persons was allowed to pay fines in installments. The Chyhunachny District Court did not take into account there were unemployed and retired persons with low pensions, such as Tatsiana Seviarynets, and Alena Shabunia has a disability and also lives on a pension, while she raises three children, two of whom are minors.
“I have tried to challenge the decision to refuse payments in installments,” said Pavel Levinau. “I showed a certificate that I get a pension, and another one that I have to pay 600,000 for utilities. I showed a certificate of my father’s death, whom I only recently buried, and that costs much... However, judge Alena Tsyhankova did not find sufficient evidence to allow the payment of fines during several months – neither for me nor for others. We were treated as if we caused a very great harm to the city and the rule of law by only being photographed near graffiti! Nowhere in the world people are punished for such pictures.”