Homel: Larysa Shchyrakova gets fined for “participation in illicit manufacture and distribution of media products”
March 12, Judge of the Tsentrany District Court of Homel Viktar Kazachak considered an administrative report drawn up on freelance journalist Larysa Shchyrakova.
The journalist was charged with violating the rules of production and distribution of media products (Part 2 of Article 22.9 of the Code of Administrative Offenses). January 13, 2015 the website of the TV channel "BelSat" published a video about the problems of entrepreneurs at the “Tsentralny” market in Homel. The police questioned the entrepreneurs who were present on the video, and they
testified that they had been shot on video by Larysa Shchyrakova. The case materials also include a response of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that this citizen is not accredited at the MFA as a journalist for a foreign mass media.
At the trial Larysa Shchyrakova petitioned the court to admit lawyer Leanid Sudalenka as her representative, and also to lead the trial in the Belarusian language. Judge Kazachak rejected the petitions, explaining that Leanid Sudalenka was not a lawyer, there were two official languages in Belarus, and case management is conducted in Russian.
The journalist pleaded innocent. Firstly, provisions of the Law “On Mass Media” concern mass media, i.e. legal entities, whereas Larysa Shchyrakova is an private individual, and therefore such provisions should not apply to her. Moreover, Article 34 of the Constitution guarantees citizens the right to receive and impart information. The journalist has no employment relationship, agreement or contract with “BelSat”, and is neither a staff nor a freelance reporter.
At the trial she confirmed that had really shot entrepreneurs on video at the market, but placed the video at hear channel on “YouTube”, so that it could be used by anyone. “If my video appeared on the BBC or Al Jazeera" would I be accused of collaborating with these channels then?” wonders Larysa Shchyrakova.
The judge admitted that indeed article 22.9 of the Administrative Code concerned the media rather than individuals, but when deciding noted that the journalist was accused of "complicity of illegal production and distribution of media products" and fined her 3.6 mln Belarusian roubles.
The journalist disagrees with the verdict and will challenge it at higher courts.
"If the state limits the rights of citizens, it should explain the reasons. In this case we haven't heard or seen for what purposes the rights of Larysa Shchyrakova, guaranteed by the Constitution and international legal acts, ratified by Belarus (such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights), are limited,” commented human rights activist Leanid Sudalenka.
The journalist believes that by such actions the authorities want to intimidate journalists before the elections to prevent them from making video reports about serious problems in the economy and social life.