BAJ protests against prosecution of journalists for contribution to foreign mass media
30.09.2014 |Society| EuroBelarus Information Service,
The demand for Belarusan citizens to have accreditation from the Foreign Ministry of Belarus to seek and spread information violates the Constitution and international legal obligations of Belarus.
The public association Belarusan Association of Journalists made a statement against prosecution of reporters whose names and materials appear in foreign mass media.
“Pressure on these journalists bears clear characteristics of threat and blackmailing, and contradicts to national legislative norms as well as to obligations of the Republic of Belarus to ensure freedom of information under international agreements”, - is said in the special statement.
On September 25, the Babruisk district court fined Maryna Malchanava, a journalist of the non-state newpaper Bobruyskij Courier, for 32 basic amounts (4 800 000 rubles). She was found guilty of violating p. 2 of art. 22.9 of the Code of Administrative Violations, for "illegal production and distribution of mass media products". According to the police report compiled by lieutenant colonel Siarhei Rudzko, the journalist "performed interviewing of a citizen..." "without the appropriate accreditation to perform professional activities for journalists of foreign mass media". The case stemmed from a material authored by Maryna Malchanava on Belsat TV channel.
Several days before, on September 16, officers of the Lenin district police department searched the flat of journalist Aliaksandr Burakou, as well as his parents' flat. The searches were sanctioned by the prosecutor’s office of Mahilieu city. They seized computer equipment belonging to the whole family.
The reason for the searches were three publications on the website www.dw.de authored by Aliaksandr Burakou. The police assured that there were no claims against the contents of the articles; however, the very fact of publishing an article on the website Deutsche Welle (the Russian version of which is only online) gives grounds for administrative prosecution. By publishing the article, the journalist, in their view, violated the legislation on mass media as he had not got accreditation from the Foreign Affairs Ministry of Belarus. The journalist has another summons to the police department for September 30.
BAJ draws attention that it is not the first time that provisions of art.22.9 of the Code on Administrative Violations are misused against journalists who send their materials to foreign media. Such legal practice violates national legislation of Belarus as well as obligations of our state in the sphere of freedom of expression under internatioal agreements.
Art. 22.9 of the CoAV, to which law enforcement agencies refer, DOES NOT PROVIDE for liability for work without accreditation. Equating "work without accreditation" to illegal production and distribution of mass media products is wrong at least because mass media products are produced by an editorial office of a mass medium, and not by a journalist alone; and again, it is the editorial office who distributes the product, but not the author alone. It clearly stems from article 1 of the Law on Mass Media (points 6, 7, 12).
Moreover, the demand for Belarusan citizens to have accreditation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus to seek and distribute information violates the Constitution and international legal obligations of Belarus.
The text adopted by the Board of BAJ on September 26 was sent to the General Attorney, the Minister of Internal Affairs, Chairperson of the Standing Commission of the House of Representatives on Human Rights, National Relations and Mass Media, as well as to the Chairman of the Supreme Court.