THE BELARUSIAN ASSOCIATION OF JOURNALISTS Mass Media Week in Belarus May 11 – 24, 2015 Within the reporting period, several websites received letters from the Ministry of Information. The authority informed the website owners that some violations had been revealed there, and the Ministry wanted to know the names of the website owners. The letters were not yet official warnings, but experts forecast it is not long to wait. On May 12, a representative of the Information Ministry Yuliya Kochyna reported that the Ministry had issued an official warning to the newspaper Nashe Pravoslaviye (Our Orthodoxy) of the Vitebsk Orthodox Diocese. The official representative did not go into details what the warning was about. Earlier, there were reports that some civil activists and Orthodox believers wrote to the Information Ministry asking to check if the newspaper complied with the legislation of Belarus. The petition was filed after the newspaper published an article openly calling on Orthodox Christians to take part in the war conflict in Ukraine. The chief editor of the newspaper Andrei Herashchanka said that he learnt about the warning from publications in the media. On May 13, the journalist and expert Aliaksandr Alesin told BAJ that he still had stayed in the status of criminally charged with cooperation with foreign special services. The case was initiated by the KGB of Belarus in December 2014. The journalist says he is being summoned to questionings continually. “The questionings are formal by nature, because they specify details which I had already told before,” he said. We remind that Aliaksandr Alesin, journalist, military affairs expert of the newspaper Belorusy I Rynok, was detained on November 25. First, he was accused under art. 356 of the Criminal Code (treason) and establishing cooperation with foreign intelligence service (art. 356.1). He was set free a couple of weeks later, however he is banned to leave the country since December 10; treason charges were dropped. As became known on May 16, several websites providing independent socio-political news have received letters from the Information Minister; the letters request information about owners of the websites and warn that the websites contain some “violations of the mass media legislation”. Such letters were sent, for instance, to e-mail boxes of the websites freeregion.info, racyja.com, tuzin.fm (music portal), ucbp.org (website of the United Civil Party) and the cultural website kyky.org. In the letters, the Information Minister Liliya Ananich reminds that the owners can get an official warning for dissemination of untrue information which can harm state or public interests (point 1.2 of art. 49 of the Law on Mass Media). She underlined that the Ministry can block the resource after issuing two warnings, unless the website corrects the violations (point 1 of art. 51 of the Mass Media Law). The Ministry wanted to know the names of the website owners. As reported on May 15, the republican unitary enterprise Belposhta again denied services of distribution to the independent regional outlet Intex-press (Baranavichy). The newspaper wrote a letter to Belposhta arguing that the enterprise was obliged to include the newspaper into its subscription catalogues according to antimonopoly legislation (on January 10, 2014 Belposhta was included into the State Register of economic entities that occupy dominating positions on Belarusian market in services of “subscription, delivery and re-addressing of printed mass media products”). Unfortunately, on May 7, the first deputy of the director general Elena Skripchik sent again a refusal which is not worth quoting here because it is inadequate. Belposhta has denied services to Intex-press since 2006. On May 15, the Krychau district court held the first hearing into the defamation case against Uladzimir Kudrautsau, the publisher of the low-circulation newspaper Volny Horad. The editor is accused of defaming a police officer of the local police district, under administrative article 9.2. The judge sent the case back to the police for completion. She upheld the motions to question the editor of the newspaper Siarhei Niarouny, the motion to enclose the publisher’s statement to the prosecutor’s office that he had received threats from the police officer, and the defendant’s motion to enclose an audio copy (which is at the disposal of the police department) of some talk with the police officer. The plaintiff did not appear in court. On May 18, freelance journalist from Mahilou Ales Burakou received the reply from the Supreme Court regarding his fine for “illegal production of mass media products”. The journalist was fined on October 8, 2014 by Mahilou court; Judge Alena Volkava imposed a fine of 40 basic amounts (six million rubles) according to administrative art. 22.9 for an article published on DW.DE on August 25, 2014, titled “On smugglers’ trail: do Russian sanctions work in near-border area?” Besides, on September 16, the journalist’s flat was searched (as a place were the administrative violation was performed), as well as his parents’ flat, and PC and information carriers were seized for an inquiry. The appeal to the Mahilou Regional Court was dismissed, the same as the supervisory appeal to the President of the court. For the time being, all national legal remedies have been exhausted, and the journalist is going to lodge a complaint to the UN Human Rights Committee. As reported on May 19, the Supreme Court of Belarus called on the Polish authorities to ban Belsat TV from using its name “Belsat”. In September, 2014 the Supreme Court of Belarus retried the case BelsatPlus vs Belsat TV. Although plaintiff Andrey Belyakou failed to show any new evidence, the judges forbade Belsat TV to use its name and trade mark in the territory of Belarus and on its website. Andrey Belyakou, the owner of company BELSATplus, accused television Belsat TV of illegal use of its trade mark and wanted the court to ban the channel from using it. Belarus sent documents with a sentence concerning the prohibition to the District Court in Warsaw. Taking into consideration the provisions of the country’s Civil Code, the Polish side may put the sentence into effect and ban Belsat TV from using its trademark in Belarus. Before taking the decision, the court in Warsaw asked the Polish Public Television (Belsat TV is a structural unit of it) to present its position in the case. Initially, the Belarusian Supreme Court did not settle Mr Belyakou's claims in January, 2014. But in June Andrey Fedartsou, the Deputy Chair of the Supreme Court, ordered to revise the case. He ruled that the verdict had been delivered without giving 'careful consideration' to the problem. On May 22, journalist from Brest Alina Litvinchuk received a copy of the report that one more administrative case was initiated against her, art. 22.9. She is accused of taking an interview from the activist Alena Kakhovich and publishing it on the website Radio Racyja, by doing this she “illegally produced a product of mass media”. On January 13, Alina Litvinchuk was already fined once for 30 basic amounts according to art. 22.9, and on February 16 she was fined again for 40 b.a., moreover she wasn’t summoned to court, the trail was held in absentia. On May 22, the Homel district court fined the independent cameraman Katsus Zhukouski for 25 b.a. (4.5 million rubles) under art. 22.9. He was accused of illegally making a report for Belsat on March 24. When the trial finished, the journalist wanted to take a picture of the court entrance sign, but was detained. Together with him, journalist Natallia Kryvashei was detained. They were held for 3 hours and a half, their personal data were copied, then they were set free without any administrative reports. On May 24, Belarusian customs officers on the Belarusian-Lithuanian border point Kamenny Loh held thorough searches in the car of the human rights defender, BAJ member Leanid Sudalenka. A laptop was seized. The lawyer was going back from Vilnius, from the forum of non-commercial law. The program of the forum was seized, too.
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