2 years of prison for BELSAT journalists and the reaction of the world to the legal chaos in Belarus; a criminal case in connection with the death of Raman Bandarenka was opened; Belarus may adopt a law on countering extremism; security forces broke into the Protestant church
18 February 2021 | Voice of Belarus
No more “very concerned” statements – only concrete actions instead. This is how the world reacts to the conviction of the Belarusian journalists
The Minsk court sentenced Belsat TV channel journalists Katsiaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova to 2 years in a general regime colony for a live stream from the event in memory of murdered Raman Bandarenka. The stream showed the security forces dispersing the protesters. This is the first trial and conviction of journalists in Belarus in a criminal case related to protests against the rigged election results.
Top world media and journalists’ associations had a pretty strong reaction to the court’s decision: BBC, Le Monde, Politico, Financial Times, Human Rights Watch, IPI, IFJ, Associated Press, The Guardian, El Mundo, France 24, Voanews, Die Presse, Deutsche Welle.
The President of the Republic of Poland Andrzej Duda, the US Embassy in Belarus, members of the Lithuanian parliament, the European Parliament, the European Federation of Journalists, the International Federation of Journalists, the European Broadcasting Union, the Berlin branch of the international organization “Reporters Without Borders” strongly condemned the conviction of the journalists. The organizations called for an immediate release of the journalists from custody and the imposition of new sanctions against the Lukashenko regime.
Former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul also commented on the decision of the court. “Amazing courage. No more ‘very concerned’ statements from democratic leaders please. Concrete actions instead,” he said in a tweet.
Today, on 18 February, the US government has imposed individual sanctions against 43 persons responsible for undermining democracy in Belarus following the persecution of human rights organizations and journalists. These people are subjected to visa restrictions. 27 more people, such as judges, officers of the law-enforcement agencies, state officials, and propagandists, were included in the UK sanctions list against the Belarusian regime.
A criminal case in connection with the death of Raman Bandarenka was opened. The police officers were not identified as individuals involved in his death
The criminal case connected with the death of Rаman Bаndarenkа was opened in Belarus. The statement was published in the official Telegram channel of the Belarusian public prosecutor’s office on Thursday, 18 February. The related article provides for prison sentences of 5 to 15 years. At the same time, the department noted that “the internal affairs authorities employees were not identified as involved in causing bodily harm to Raman Bandarenka”.
31-year-old Raman Bondarenka was beaten by people who were cutting off the white and red ribbons at the Square of Changes while trying to stop them. According to the investigation by the BYPOL organization, some government officials, as well as people especially close to Lukashenko, were present there at the time of the incident.
Raman died from his injuries in the hospital. Commenting on his death, Alexander Lukashenko alleged that the young man had been intoxicated with alcohol. The Prosecutor’s office insists on the same thing. The anesthesiologist and intensivist Artsiom Sarokin, who provided information that Raman had been sober, and TUT.BY journalist Katsiaryna Barysevich, who had written about this in the media, were arrested. Both still remain in custody. The first court hearing on their case is scheduled for 19 February.
Police broke into the Protestant church, cutting the locks on the door and stopping the prayer
The bailiffs together with the police came to the “New Life” Protestant church in Minsk to evict the churchgoers from the building. When the churchgoers refused to let them in, the locksmiths cut down the lock on the door and stopped the prayer. The police ordered everyone out, threatening with arrests and allowing people to only take some of their personal belongings. The history of confrontation between the authorities and the church goes back to 2005 when the city authorities decided to evict the “New Life” church from the building it occupied, built back in 1992. The pressure on the churchgoers intensified in early 2021 after the pastor of the “New Life” had condemned the lawlessness and brutality earlier in 2020. The parishioners also recorded a video condemning the violence against civilians. The Bishop of the Association of Christian Communities of the Full Gospel Leonid Voronenko addressed the entire Christian community and all people of goodwill with a request to “pray and raise your voice in this situation”.
A new law on countering extremism may be adopted in Belarus. It’s going to get even worse
A draft of amendments to the Law on Countering Extremism in Belarus was leaked online. Should the changes come into force, the KGB would keep lists of people and organizations that are considered extremist. People recognized as “extremists” will be banned from engaging in their professional activities and from performing major financial transactions after passing special control. Following the sentence for extremist activities, a person would be prohibited to engage in medical, educational, and publishing activities for 5 years. Naturalized citizens of the Republic of Belarus might be stripped of their citizenship and deported. Providing funds for the so-called “financing of extremist activities” would also be considered “extremism”.
The interpretation of the “extremism” concept itself would change. From now on, this concept would cover the activities of the media, international organizations, and individual entrepreneurs. Insult and discrediting of state authorities, public administration, or a government representative; discrediting Belarus, and even violation of the order and organization of mass events would be also recognized as extremist activities. Participation in an event that is unfavourable to the authorities as well as expressing an undesirable opinion could be broadly and arbitrarily interpreted as extremism. Freedom of assembly and speech would be under a total ban, similarly to a state of war or a state of emergency.
For more information on the events of 18 February 2021, please visit Infocenter Free Belarus 2020: