On Thursday, judge Natallya Buhuk has passed a verdict of guilty and sentenced Belsat TV journalist Katsyaryna Andreyeva, camerawoman Darya Chultsova to two years of imprisonment in a minimum-security penal colony.
Their case was considered in Frunzenski district court of Minsk within three days. In November, Katsyaryna and Darya were accused of ‘organisation and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order’ (Art. 342 of the Criminal Code) on the back of their livestreaming a rally in Minsk. The investigators claim the Belsat crew ‘coordinated protesters and called for further actions’, but the two media workers were just performing their professional duties by reporting from the scene.
Prosecutor Alina Kasyanchyk demanded the two girls serve a two-year prison term each and their working equipment be confiscated in profit of the state. The defence lawyers asked the court to acquit the defendants due to the lack of evidence, but the judge took heed of the prosecution’s version.
According to the judge, the time that the girls have already spent behind bars will be taken into consideration (one day in custody=one day in a penal colony). Natallya Buhuk also orders to destroy notebooks and stickers which were previously seized from the girls. A video camera, a microphone and a tripod have been confiscated.
Judge: Defendants, do you get a grasp of the verdict?
Katsyaryna (mockingly): No, I don’t, what is it?
Darya (ironically): Why haven’t you sentenced us to 25 years in prison?
Katsyaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova were arrested on November 15 for broadcasting live a violent dispersal of a rally in memory of murdered protester Raman Bandarenka and the destruction of a national memorial in the so called Square of Change by security forces. They were filming and commenting on what was going on from the apartment on the 14th floor of the house on Smarhouski Trakt Street in Minsk, where they had been invited by the hosts. After the rally, armed riot police broke the door to the apartment and detained the girls.
At first, Katsya and Dasha had administrative reports filed against them under Article 23.34 and 23.4 of the Administrative Code. They were accused of allegedly participating in an unauthorized protest and disobeying the police. On November 17, a Minsk court sentenced them to 7 days of administrative arrest for their professional activities. The court ruling said that Katsyaryna and Darya had committed an offense, but their actions did not constitute a crime.
However, contrary to the court’s findings, a criminal case was launched against Belsat journalists right at that time. On November 20, they were charged under Part 1 of Article 342 of the Criminal Code (organisation and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order). The girls were kept in custody and transferred to Zhodzina prison and kept in separate cells.
The investigation also claims that the livestream of the journalists resulted in the stoppage of 13 buses, 3 trolleybuses and 3 streetcar routes as well as the damage to the city transport agency Minsktrans (around 11,562 rubles).
On November 24, Belarusian human rights watchdogs recognised Katsyaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova as political prisoners.