Belsat TV journalists sentenced to 2 years in prison
Katsiaryna Bakhvalava (Andreyeva) and Darya Chultsova, journalists working with the Belsat TV channel, were sentenced to 2 years’ imprisonment in a general-security penitentiary each, after Judhe Natallia Buhuk of the Frunzienski District Court of Minsk found them today guilty of involvement in “group actions gravely breaching public order” (Part 1 of Art. 342 of the Criminal Code). Both were earlier called political prisoners by the country’s human rights community.
Andreyeva and Chultsova allegedly disrupted the work of public transport while covering a protest held in Minsk after the death of Raman Bandarenka. The two women reported live in Belsat’s YouTube channel and were eventually detained after the protest was violently dispersed by the police.
During the trial opened on February 9, the prosecution insisted that by voicing information from “destructive accounts on social media”, the journalists helped protesters gather near the grassroots memorial to Bandarenka. They allegedly did this in order to “increase the scale” of the protest and to be able to “resist law enforcement officers”.
The defense maintained that the defendants were innocent. On the day of the protest, mobile internet was shut down in Minsk and the protesters could not watch the live broadcast. Linguistic experts found no “calls for group actions” in the report. In their opinion, the information announced during the live broadcast only described what was happening and was neutral in nature. None of the witnesses for the prosecution who spoke at the trial said that it was the journalists’ actions that urged people to gather or resulted in the obstruction of public transport and regular traffic.
“In fact, we have established that Katsiaryna Bakhvalava carried out the work of a journalist. For these actions, she and Darya Chultsova have been behind bars for more than three months. We believe that there is no corpus delicti in the actions of Bakhvalava and Chultsova,” defense lawyer Siarhei Zikratski emphasized in the court hearings.
According to the investigation, the offense led to the suspension of 19 public transport routes, many of which in reality do not run in the area. This, in turn, reportedly caused damage of more than 11 thousand rubles. The families of Chultsova and Bakhvalava compensated for the damage, and the public transport operator dropped the civil suit against the journalists. Meanwhile, the court failed to establish who exactly blocked the traffic.
In their last words, the journalists stressed that all the materials of the case indicate their innocence.
“From a legal point of view, this “trial” cannot be legitimate or fair in any way,” lawyer Siarhei Zikratski said after the hearing.