Today a district court in Minsk, Belarus sentenced journalist Katsiaryna Andreyeva and her colleague and camerawoman Daria Chultsova to two years in prison having deemed them guilty of “organizing activities violating public order.”
The two women work for Belsat, a Poland-based broadcaster, long targeted by Belarusian authorities.
The Frunzensky District Court’s ruling was based on charges brought following a live stream the journalists had broadcasted on November 15, 2020 from the “Square of Change” courtyard in Minsk. Hundreds of people had gathered there that day to commemorate Raman Bandarenka—an activist beaten to death, allegedly by plain clothed police officers — and demand justice for his death.
Andreyeva, whose real family name is Bakhvalova, and Chultsova live-streamed the protest from a nearby apartment for about five hours. After police dispersed the peaceful demonstrators, ten riot police officers broke into the apartment, detained both journalists, and seized their equipment.
On November 15, a court in Minsk sentenced Andreyeva and Chultsova to seven days’ detention for the administrative offence of participating in an unsanctioned mass gathering, meaning the protest they were streaming.
Five days later, the authorities opened a criminal case against the journalists. Police searched Andreyeva’s apartment, her relatives’ home, and the apartment of Chultsova’s parents. On November 24, police also detained Andreyeva’s husband, Igor Ilyash, at home, opening their apartment with a key taken from Andreyeva. The next day a court sentenced Ilyash to 15 days for allegedly participating in another protest in October, despite his claims that he was not there.
Ilyash said that the charges against Andreyeva are based solely on 12 fragments from her live stream in which she expressed admiration for the peaceful protesters.
Today’s sentencing of Andreyeva and Chultsova is one of many ways Belarus’s government has retaliated against journalists for reporting on peaceful protests and human rights violations. At least seven other journalists are behind bars awaiting trial on similar criminal charges. On Tuesday, authorities raided the homes and offices at least 40 journalists and human rights defenders who are promoting freedom of the press.
Belarusian authorities should stop treating journalists as their enemies and let them peacefully do their legitimate work.