Court in Mahiliou supports ban on access of reporters to sessions of Regional Council
The Mahiliou Leninski District Court dismissed on January 21 a complaint by Uladzimir Laptsevich, journalist of the BelaPAN news agency, against Chairman of the Mahiliou Regional Council of Deputies Anatol Isachenka and chief specialist of the Regional Council Yauhen Nalhachau.
In his complaint, Uladzimir Laptsevich argued that the officials did not allow him to attend a public session of the Regional Council.
Uladzimir Laptsevich asked the court to lift all bans on attending open meetings of the Regional Council and to order recovery of court fees of 150,000 rubles.
The complaint was considered by Judge Valiantsina Lapatsina. The defendant was represented by chief specialist of the Regional Council Yauhen Nalhachau.
Uladzimir Laptsevich stressed the fact that he is a correspondent for the news agency BelaPAN and his responsibilities include coverage of all the important events and activities that take place in the region and affect the interests of its people. Sessions of the Mahiliou Regional Council of Deputies are an important source of information about the situation in the economic, social and other spheres of the region. MPs are supposed to openly and publicly discuss the most important issues in the life of the region and to take adequate measures.
According to Uladzimir Laptsevich, for a number of years, he has attended the session of the Regional Council to impartially cover them. Representatives of the Regional Council expressed no complaints about the quality of his work. However, since January 2014, for unknown reasons the journalist has been denied the right to attend the sessions of the Council.
In particular, Uladzimir Laptsevich was removed from the assembly room in October last year, after chief specialist Yauhen Nalhachau asked the journalist to leave the room, because he was not on the guest list.
After the incident, Uladzimir Laptsevich arranged a personal appointment with the Chairman of the Regional Council Anatol Isachenka who received the journalist on November 19. According to the reporter, the official assured him that he personally never prohibited him to attend the session of the Regional Council.
On November 24, the journalist was once again not allowed to attend an extraordinary session of the Council of Deputies on the same grounds (he was not on the guest list). After that, Uladzimir Laptsevich left an entry in the book of complaints and suggestions. In response to the comment, Anatol Isachenka wrote that there was no violation in the ban. The response made Mr. Laptsevich file a complaint in court.
Uladzimir Laptsevich noted that, according to the Belarusian legislation, the public session of the Regional Council of Deputies can be attended by both journalists and ordinary citizens, provided Belarus is indeed a law-governed state. And it does not need any invitations, as they are only sent to those who are invited to attend the session of the Regional Council.
Yauhen Nalhachau said in his speech that in order to attend a session of the Regional Council journalists supposedly had to submit an application, without explaining in the name of whom such a statement shall be filed. According to him, under the regulations of the Regional Council, its sessions can only be attended by specially invited guests. Mr. Laptsevich had not filed such a statement, therefore he was denied the right to attend the session.
The representative of the Prosecutor’s Office also supported the opinion of Mr. Nalhachau, saying that “order should be preserved everywhere”. He noted that the order of attending the sessions is determined by the inner rules of the Regional Council, and the regulations cited by the plaintiff are “far-fetched”. The opinion looked absurd, as Uladzimir Laptsevich referred to specific articles of the Law “On Mass Media”, the Law “On Information, Informatization and Protection of Information” and the Law “On Local Government and Self-government”. The prosecutor said the journalist’s complaint was illegal and unjustified, because it did not contain any evidence, calling the actions of the Mahiliou Regional Council legitimate.
As a result, Judge Valiantsina Lapatsina ruled to dismiss the claim, as she considered it far-fetched and contrary to reality. According to the judge, officials of the Regional Council acted in accordance with the rules of the agency. Thus, the judge considered this bylaw to be more significant than the Belarusian laws.
According to Uladzimir Laptsevich, he will certainly appeal against the decision to the Mahiliou Regional Court. The journalist believes that at the hearing the judge somehow did not pay attention to the fact that representatives of the Mahiliou Regional Council confused different concepts of “presence” and “participation”.
Uladzimir Laptsevich is also going to send a request to the Regional Council’s Chairman Anatol Isachenka asking him to clarify on the basis of which point of the Council’s regulations visitors have to write a statement to exercise their right to attend the sessions of the Regional Council.
It should be noted that the human rights activists and journalists who attended the trial were not only impressed by the proceedings, but also by the treatment of the state symbols by representatives of the judiciary – the flag of the Republic of Belarus was hung upside down in the courtroom of the Leninski District Court.