24 April 2019, Wednesday, 7:58
For our and your freedom!

Individuals And Legal Entities

Iryna Khalip

Video blogging as a symbol of freedom of speech.

The son approaches: "Blogger Nexta uploaded new video, let's go to watch!" I've subscribed for Stsypan's YouTube channel, as soon as the criminal case for insulting Lukashenka was initiated against him, and his parents' apartment was searched. I know he always uploads new videos on Fridays. This week it has happened on Wednesday.

The 17 minute-long video "When the father is policeman." It's about the story published on Onliner a year and a half ago. In the summer evening of 2016 Minsk resident Uladzimir Davydau ran out of the entrance to protect his wife mocked by a group of tough teenagers. One of teenagers dealt a fatal blow to Davydau. Uladzimir was in coma when taken to hospital. He was diagnosed with "multiple fractures of the skull cup and basal skull" and died a day later. A criminal case was initiated under Article 147 "Causing bodily harm". Onliner published the story. A few days later it was removed. And no one recalled it anymore.

And here comes blogger Stsyapan Svyatlou. And told about things not covered by the media. The assailant was the son of a policeman. The case was promptly reclassified as "infliction of death by negligence" (Article 144). A year after the tragedy, Hleb, the son of the murdered, met the murderer in a drug store near the house. He served only a year in prison and now he's happy. The murdered was the only breadwinner, and now family members sometimes just have nothing to eat. The widow of Uladzimir Davydau Halina has been taking care of a disabled mother for ten years, and therefore, cannot get a job (and these ten years and all subsequent years will not be included in the pension insurance period). She was not paid out a financial compensation ordered by the court.

But this is not about the Davydaus. I am about the 19-year-old Belarusian video blogger Stsypan Svyatlou, or NEXTA, who uploaded video not for likes. "When the father is policeman" is a serious journalistic investigation. With lots of details, with a close eye on details, with thorough analysis and conclusions. During the day the video was watched by almost 130.000 people. Three thousand comments. Advanced users gave a piece of advice to technically challenged how to make bank transfer to help the family. Will officials keep blocking sites after this and forcing to delete information from unblocked ones? Guys, keep grabbing the ocean with leaky shoes.

These few media registered in Belarus have a sacred cow - a legal entity. It is the Achilles heel. I remember very well how accounts of the "Belarusian business newspaper" were arrested, because a citizen filed a lawsuit against the newspaper, and accounts were arrested long before the trial as "interim relief". It is easy to manipulate a legal entity registered in Belarus. A couple of warnings from the Ministry of Information for a wrong typed dateline, a lawsuit from a citizen Sidarau with a subsequent arrest of the account, then intimate conversation with an official, who promises that there will be no problems, if one or two conditions are obeyed.

When passed away Pyotr Martseu was closing down the "Belarusian business newspaper", he said: "The main thing for me is to preserve the enterprise." In 2006 when businessman Knyrovich gave a lecture to a head of one of his departments for participation in protests and in the Square activity, his only argument was as follows: "You represents a legal entity, and your actions discredit him!" Things are even simpler with websites: a preventive blocking for a couple of days is "48 hours for you to think" and there are no more concerns about the content. (Such tricks do not work with the Charter, that's why it's blocked.)

Amid this poor background of censorship and self-censorship brave 19-year-old guys like Stsypan Svyatlou or those a little older like Pavel Spiryn get involved into investigations, shoot documentaries and social-political stories on the Internet. They have nothing to do with legal entities, they do not pay anyone and are not paid in return. They are implacable natural person or "individuals", like tax inspectors like to say.

And these very "individuals" make short work of every lawyer with ease. Stsypan Svyatlou has 125 thousand subscribers and their number constantly increases. That is, his personal audience is even greater than that of any registered Belarusian media. 550 thousand people watched the film "Stepfather" by Pavel Spiryn (I wonder what BT product can boast off the same audience, except for Eurovision broadcasting). He and Svyatlou now are threatened with a criminal case. This is the only thing the authorities can do against bloggers. They are "individuals" and can only be deprived of freedom. Well, they can also send a warning of the Ministry of Information to YouTube. One can also block this video hosting service in Belarus, as it is done in North Korea, China and Iran. And then there will be no obstacle for building-up of a digital state. Or rather to grab water with leaky shoes.

Iryna Khalip, specially for Charter97.org