Sie sind die letzte Bastion des unabhängigen Journalismus in Weißrussland: Die Mitglieder des Journalistenverbands BAJ. Seit Jahren stehen sie unter Beschuss des Lukaschenko-Regimes, 2004 erhielten sie als Anerkennung ihrer immer schwieriger werdenden Arbeit den Sacharow-Preis des Europäischen Parlaments.
Jetzt fährt das weißrussische Staatsfernsehen harsche Angriffe gegen den Verband und seine Gründerin Zhanna Litvina. In einem Fernsehbeitrag, der vor wenigen Tagen gesendet wurde, wird den Journalisten Betrug vorgeworfen sowie die illegale Annahme von Geldern aus dem Ausland.
Litvina wird in dem Beitrag als selbstverliebte Verbandschefin diffamiert, die die Wahrheit vertusche und Geld veruntreue. Dabei beruft sich der Sender auf vermeintlich „geheime Dokumente der britischen Botschaft“. Diese wurden im Beitrag gezeigt, tragen aber weder Unterschriften noch offizielle Stempel.
Litvina bestreitet, die Dokumente je gesehen zu haben. „Dieser einseitige Bericht nach Geheimdienst-Manier wurde produziert, um mich zu demütigen und die Organisation zu untergraben“, kommentiert die BAJ-Vorsitzende. Die Anwälte ihres Verbands wollen den TV-Sender nun wegen Beleidigung verklagen. „Wir müssen mit weiteren Angriffen rechnen“, sagt Litvina. „Belarus ist ein unberechenbares Land.“
„Wir nehmen die Schmutzkampagne gegen die BAJ sehr ernst“, heißt es bei Reporter ohne Grenzen. Die Organisation erinnert daran, dass der Prozess gegen den Menschenrechtler Ales Bjaljatski vor kurzem auf ähnliche Weise begann. Der Vorsitzende der Menschenrechtsorganisation Wjasna (Frühling) war im November 2011 wegen angeblicher Steuerhinterziehung zu viereinhalb Jahren Haft verurteilt worden. Die Diffamierungen des Staatsfernsehens gegen den Journalistenverband, so Reporter ohne Grenzen, zielten nun auf das „Zentrum des unabhängigen Journalismus in Belarus“.
Eigentlich wollte Litvina exklusiv in einem Beitrag für den Debattiersalon ihre Situation schildern. Da sie Minsk angesichts der aktuellen Angriffe verlassen musste, hat uns Aliaxandr Sterykievich, Vize-Präsident des BAJ, die Lage im Land zusammengefasst:
Von Aliaxandr Sterykievich
The present-day working conditions for independent journalists in Belarus are, perhaps, the worst in Europe. Especially the situation deteriorated after the presidential election in 2010.
The gravest violations of rights of independent mass media and journalists were
- criminal prosecution of journalists;
- mass detentions of journalists;
- revocation of “Autoradio” broadcast license;
- filing of claims against “Narodnaya Volia” and “Nasha Niva” aimed at closure of these independent periodical newspapers.
In the aftermath of the presidential elections criminal proceedings were initiated against seven journalists and BAJ members. The media workers were charged with preparation of mass riots and participation in them, or in organizing activities, roughly violating the public order. The journalist for “Novaya Gazeta” (Russia) Iryna Khalip, Aliaksandr Atroshchankau, the spokesman for a former presidential candidate Andrey Sannikau, “charter’97” website Editor-in-chief Natallia Radzina, and also the presidential candidates’ aides Aliaksandr Fiaduta, the “Tovarisch” newspaper Editor-in-chief Siarhei Vazniak, BAJ council member Pavel Seviarynets, and BAJ member Dzmitry Bandarenka were detained. The judgments of guilty were returned to six of them in April -May 2011, and three of them – Atroshchankau, Bandarenka, Seviarynets – were sentenced to real terms of imprisonment.
Also criminal proceedings were initiated against a Hrodna-based journalist Andrzej Paczobut for his critical articles, published in the “Gazeta Wyborcza” daily (Poland), on the “Belarusian Partisan” Web-site, as well as in his blog poczobut.livejournal.com in 2010 – 2011. He was taken into custody in April 2011.The court sessions were closed to public. The judge of Leninski District court of Hrodna found the journalist guilty of casting aspersions on the president of Belarus and sentenced him to three years of imprisonment with deferment of punishment for two years (if he violates any rules, he will be sent to prison). He was released from custody in the courtroom.
The most numerous detentions of journalists took place during the so-called ‘silent protest’ actions, organized through social networks. Representatives of law enforcement agencies prevented the media workers from performing their professional duties: the reporters were detained and penalized on administrative charges.
In total 95 journalists were detained during the ‘silent protest actions’ in all Belarusian regions. The detentions were violent, sometimes journalists were battered and their professional equipment damaged. 22 journalists stood trials. 13 of them were sentenced to different terms of administrative arrest, others were fined. The police acted especially cruelly on July 3 and July 6, 2011. 20 and 28 journalists were detained respectively on these days.
The Belarusian association of Journalists registered over 150 cases of detentions of journalists, while the latter implemented their professional duties in 2011. No less than 7 journalists were physically abused.
On January 10, 2011, the Ministry of information of Belarus deprived “Autoradio” FM radio station of the right to broadcast, accusing them of dissemination of information that allegedly “contained public appeals to extremist activities”. The Ministry of information considered an expression by a presidential candidate Andrey Sannikau – “the fate of your country is not decided in the kitchen, it is sealed in the square” – delivered in his campaigning radio presentation to be a call to extremist activity. All attempts by “Autoradio” to contest the resolutions, taken by the Ministry of information, were in vain.
On April 27, 2011, the Ministry of information of Belarus filed claims on closure of two leading independent periodical editions – “Narodnaya Volia” and “Nasha Niva” (it is worth mentioning that Belarusian official authorities returned these periodicals to the state-owned “Belposhta” and “Belsayuzdruk” press distribution networks as an expression of their readiness to start a dialogue with the EU structures in 2008.) The case evoked a large response both in Belarus and abroad. Consequently, on July 12 and July 13, 2011 the Ministry of information withdrew its claims on termination of “Nasha Niva” and “Narodnaya Volia” publishing. However, the Ministry initiated administrative proceedings against “Narodnaya Volia” and “Nasha Niva” immediately afterwards. Finally, at the end of July 2011 the periodicals were fined 14,000,000 Belarusian rubles (approx. eur 2,000) each for breaking article 22.9, part 3 of the Belarusian Code on Administrative Offences.
In spring 2011 the Procurator-General’s office passed a resolution on restriction of public access to www.charter97.org and www.belaruspartisan.org websites, referring to their violation of Belarusian law “on Mass events in the republic of Belarus”. The registered Web-providers were urged to disable access to these websites from the state organizations as well as from cultural and educational establishments. By the beginning of 2012, the restricted access list included around 60 Web-sites. Apart from the websites with pornographic, terrorist, and extremist materials, the ban list includes the abovementioned www.charter97.org, www.belaruspartisan.org as well as www.spring96.org (‘Viasna’ center for Human rights), www.prokopovich.net, www.prokopovi.ch, and lipkovich’s blog section in LiveJournal.
An unauthorized intervention into the ‘charter 97’ website activity took place at the end of 2011. Unknown computer hackers stole passwords and started to destroy the website materials. Also, they published a provocative article on the web pages; the ‘charter’97’ editorial didn’t have any connection to the publication.
According to the website editor Natallia Radzina, the unknown violators were trying to crack some other websites too. Also, they made attempts to break into the e-mail boxes of some politicians, journalists, and public figures. Independent observers believe that the malicious acts could have been committed by the Belarusian special services.
Just recently, in February the state TV showed a propaganda program about BAJ. It was based on false documents, aimed to prove that the administration of the organization “only strives for personal benefit and wealth”. Perhaps, it was a creative preparation for future repressions against BAJ, planned by the authorities.
Nevertheless, in spite of all the difficulties mentioned above, the Belarusian independent mass media continue fulfilling their mission and providing objective and many-sided information on the situation in the country. Naturally, we all would like to work in more favorable working conditions. But we see that demand for our work in our country is increasing. So thoughts about risks and insecurity stay at the background, giving way to understanding of the professional duty.
And naturally, the international support and solidarity is essential for us. Our foreign partners have done a lot – and are still doing – to support independent Belarusian media and help them exist and develop.
And we are also being warmed by the idea that soon Belarus will become different – a free democratic country. And when it happens, it will also be the merit of independent journalists.
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