21 February 2018, Wednesday, 2:16
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Freedom Of Speech In Belarus: 2017 Became Most Crisis Year

There were more conflicts between the authorities and journalists in 2017 than in the previous three years taken together.

Representatives of the Belarusian Association of Journalists announced such figures at a press conference in Minsk.

– In 1017, journalists were detained 101 times when performing their professional duties, 103 journalists were brought to administrative responsibility, journalists were fined for cooperation with foreign media without accreditation 69 times, 12 cases ended for our colleagues with arrests, – BAJ chairman Andrei Bastunets outlined the problem.

Bastunets says that in 2017, the total number of authorities' conflicts with journalists reached 197 cases – this is more than within the three previous years taken together. Therefore, we can say that the year 2017 has become one of the most critical in the sphere of freedom of speech in Belarus.

– We are also very concerned about the information that the authorities are going to introduce more changes in the Law on Mass Media, and we do not even know what kind of changes we are talking about. On October 10, 2017, we sent an official registered letter to the new Information Minister of Belarus, but to this day we have not received a response to this letter, – Andrei Bastunets says.

According to BAJ Board member, legal department head Aleh Aheyeu, in 2017, the lawyers of the Belarusian Association of Journalists actively helped their colleagues in defending their rights. Joint efforts succeeded in stopping the persecution of journalists in 13 cases, BAJ Board member, legal department head Aleh Aheyeu informed.

– At the moment, 13 lawyers cooperate with us in the regions of Belarus, who not only help colleagues directly, but also improve journalists’ legal skills. In 2017, we had a number of events aimed at preventing possible conflict situations, so that journalists would not get into them, – Aheyeu adds.

According to Aheyeu, BAJ lawyers helped their colleagues to prepare a number of complaints to the UN Human Rights Committee, which will soon be considered. Also, appeals were prepared and sent to the special rapporteur on the freedom of speech of the United Nations and to the OSCE special rapporteur on the freedom of the media. Thus, we sought to use all legal and international mechanisms to protect our colleagues.

– The BAJ's main concern is the endless fines for journalists under Article 22.9 of the Code of Administrative Offenses. At the moment, the Belarusian authorities persecute the freelance journalists who cooperate with foreign media, trials are held virtually every week, and we cannot remain silent in such a situation, – BAJ chairman Andrei Bastunets says.

– In addition to all other appeals and letters, the Belarusian Association of Journalists has prepared an appeal to the Constitutional Court of Belarus with a request to oblige lawmakers to eliminate the gaps in legislation that currently allow fining journalists for what they cannot be fined. In fact, Article 22.9 of the Code of Administrative Offenses does not provide for the responsibility of journalists. In the nearest future, we, together with the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, will send such an appeal, – Andrei Bastunets adds.