Polish President Andrzej Duda called on Minsk to immediately release the journalists of the Polish TV channel Belsat broadcasting in Belarus Yekaterina Andreeva and Daria Chultsova. On Thursday, a Minsk court sentenced each to two years in a general regime colony for reporting from an unauthorized protest in November last year. Meanwhile, the Belarusian courts continue to consider high-profile cases, which the opponents of the current government call political.
On Thursday, judge Natalya Buguk issued a verdict that could become one of the new irritants in Belarus’s relations with Western countries. Belarusian journalists Yekaterina Andreeva and Daria Chultsova were sentenced to two years in prison. Employees of the TV channel “Belsat” (financed from the budget of Poland, is part of Polish television and positions itself as “the first independent TV channel in Belarus”).
“Accused, do you understand the verdict?” – Judge Buguk clarified at the end of the session. “No, what is it?” – asked Ekaterina Andreeva. “Why not 25 years?” – Daria Chultsova interrupted.
The girls were detained during an unauthorized protest on November 15, 2020.
Moreover, they were broadcasting live from one of the apartments in the area of the Minsk “square of changes”, where they were detained by the police.
This place got its name after an image of opposition-minded DJs appeared there on one of the walls of the transformer booth, who played the song “Change!” At a municipal concert. Viktor Tsoi. On November 11, local residents and a group of unknown people clashed in this place. Minsk resident Roman Bondarenko was beaten and detained by these unknown persons. He later died in hospital. The death of Roman Bondarenko prompted thousands of people to take to the streets. Hundreds of people, including two journalists from the Polish TV channel, were then detained.
In November, Yekaterina Andreeva and Darya Chultsova were arrested for a week for “violating the order of holding mass events”, but then charged with organizing “group actions that grossly violate public order.” Thursday’s verdict was much harsher. “The regime of Belarus committed an obvious crime by condemning the Belsat TV journalists Yekaterina Andreeva and Darya Chultsova to two years in prison only for the fact that they were fulfilling their professional duties. This is a violation not only of international norms, but also of Belarusian legislation, ”the TV channel said in a statement.
The verdict on the journalists was harshly criticized by a number of international organizations and foreign politicians. “In connection with the condemnation of the Belsat journalists, the President of Poland Andrzej Duda instructed the Polish diplomats in Minsk to convey to the Belarusian side his resolute protest against the repression of freedom of speech and the rights of citizens, a call for their termination and amnesty,” announced the head of the administration of Andrzej Duda Krzysztof Szczerski …
President of Poland Andrzej Duda
Photo: Francisco Seco / AP
“Belarus: the shameful persecution of the media continues. The European Union strongly condemns the verdict to the journalists of the Belsat TV channel Yekaterina Andreeva and Darya Chultsova for simply doing their job and calls for its cancellation, ”said Peter Stano, spokesman for EU diplomacy, Josep Borrel.
The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) also called on to release the journalists. It is not excluded that new sanctions will be imposed against Minsk “based on the aggregate merits”.
Thus, the Swedish MEP Karin Karlsbru is collecting signatures under a letter to the EBU demanding that Belarusian performers be barred from participating in the Eurovision Song Contest.
“Eurovision is a major musical event that unites European countries. There is no place for a state TV company that harass its employees and journalists and has a manager included in the EU sanctions list, ”the politician is sure.
The court decision against Yekaterina Andreeva and Darya Chultsova is a continuation of a series of criminal and administrative cases related to the summer presidential campaign and the subsequent protests against the election results. In total, according to the estimates of Belarusian human rights activists, 33 thousand people were detained for participating in the protests during this time, 255 prisoners are called political by human rights organizations.
According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus, this week the security forces conducted about 90 searches at the residence of members of “unregistered organizations” and “protest media resources,” including the human rights center “Viasna” and the Belarusian Association of Journalists.
Last week, the lawyer of the oppositionist Maksim Znak (member of the Coordination Council of the opposition), detained in the fall, Dmitry Laevsky, said that additional charges were brought against his client – of conspiracy to seize power, as well as of creating and leading an extremist group. Similar charges were brought against another member of the Coordination Council, Maria Kolesnikova. During the presidential campaign, lawyer Maxim Znak himself was a lawyer – he defended the interests of Viktor Babariko, who was nominated for the presidency, but was not registered by the CEC of Belarus as a candidate.
This week in Minsk, the Supreme Court of the republic began hearings on a criminal case against former top managers of Belgazprombank, including Viktor Babariko. Previously, Mr. Babariko served as chairman of the bank’s board and now faces imprisonment for up to 15 years on charges of accepting a bribe on an especially large scale by an organized group and legalizing the proceeds of crime. The text of the accusation against him alone took more than 300 pages – they began to be read in court on Wednesday. The son of the ex-presidential candidate Eduard is also under investigation on charges of tax evasion. His daughter Maria’s apartment and garage have been arrested, and on Wednesday the court rejected a motion to lift the restrictions.
“Everyone is worried about Babariko: ah, the president’s rival was imprisoned. Yes, I didn’t care about such competitors, ”Alexander Lukashenko commented on this case, speaking at the All-Belarusian People’s Assembly last week.“ I’ve built property in Turkey, mansions here, no one lives like him – cars, houses. I got children involved in this, I opened businesses. Should I look at this calmly? ” In turn, Viktor Babariko denies his guilt, and the banker’s defense calls the charges brought against him “groundless”. On Thursday, the press secretary of the President of the Russian Federation Dmitry Peskov did not rule out that the case of Viktor Babariko would be discussed at the upcoming meeting of the Presidents of the Russian Federation and Belarus Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko on February 22.