More freelance journalists fined in Homieĺ
On April 24, the Centraĺny District Court of Homieĺ considered administrative charges brought against freelance journalists Natallia Kryvashei and Kanstantsin Zhukouski. As a result, they were found guilty of violating Article 22.9 of the Administrative Code (illegal manufacturing of media products) and punished by a fine of 5.4 million each (30 basic units). For Kanstantsin Zhukouski, it was the second fine on the same charges in April.
The cases were considered by Judge Maryna Domnenka. She rejected a request to conduct the trial in Belarusian, ignoring references to the Constitution, the laws “On Languages” and “On Civil Service”, according to which civil servants must have a good command of both state languages. The judge dismissed a number of other motions, in particular, Kanstantsin Zhukouski asked to disqualify the judge. He also requested, after all other motions had been rejected, to pray before the hearing. But Maryna Domnenka did not allow this, noting that “it is not a circus or the theater”. The freelancer noted that such actions humiliated his religious dignity.
The journalists faced the same charges. According to the violation report, on March 12 “without the appropriate accreditation at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the activities of a journalist they illegally interviewed residents of the village of Buda-Haloŭčyckaja of Naroŭlia district, thereby unlawfully participated in the production of media products, namely a story “Elderly people have to pay for their homes four times more”, which was broadcast on the TV channel Belsat.
Natallia Kryvashei noted in court that the Constitution guarantees her the right to collect and disseminate information. “I, as a person with active citizenship, raise various issues of concern to citizens. I have the right to talk to people and bring their concerns to the general public. I have a blog, and my materials are used by various publications, including the SB - Belarus Today. Then why am I on trial for Belsat, which used my materials, but not for the SB - Belarus Today?” said the freelance journalist.
Kanstantsin Zhukouski was trying to receive an answer to his question: what exactly was the essence of his offense – “illegal interviewing”, but was told that he was working without accreditation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“My guilt is that I live here and tell the truth. I was in Naroŭlia district, there pensioners have a problem – they have pay for their houses four times more than in the collective farm. We have one president, and a lot of officials, and he cannot follow everything, so I helped him. Indeed, it appears that local officials by their actions discredit the president before the electorate - pensioners, and accordingly, our country as a whole - in the international arena,” said he.
The freelance journalists disagree with the court order and are going to appeal it.
“The trial clearly demonstrated the old trend - a ban on expression and dissemination of information. The trial was biased – police officers were called, the judge dismissed all the requests. It is a violation because the motions were legitimate: to conduct the trial in my native language, to have a counsel. This characterizes all of Belarus as a totalitarian country,” comments human rights activist Ales Yauseyenka.