Trial of Belarusian journalists underway

The trial of two reporters of Belsat TV, a subsidiary of Polish public broadcaster TVP, Ekaterina Andreeva and Daria Chulkova, arrested during journalistic work, begins on Tuesday. According to the Belarusian authorities, they allegedly led the protests against the current government. The journalists are facing up to three years in prison and have been recognised as political prisoners.

On November 15, 28-year-old Andreeva and 24-year-old Chulkova broadcast an online report on the brutal dispersal by OMON [Belarusian special police unit] of the spontaneous commemoration of Roman Bondarenko, beaten to death by "unknown perpetrators''. The journalists were broadcasting from the apartment where the services broke into and arrested them. The women were first sentenced to 7 days' detention for participating in an illegal protest and then charged under Part 1 of Article 342 of the Belarusian Criminal Code, concerning the organisation of actions violating public order.

"These accusations are absurd, and the whole situation has nothing to do with the court proceedings, because they were not guilty at all. Journalists were doing their job. The only question is what the regime will decide", Agnieszka Romaszewska-Guzy, director of the Belarusian-language TV Belsat broadcasting from Poland, told Polish Press Agency (PAP). "We have experienced a lot of repression, but something like this has not happened before," she added.

Both journalists were recognised as political prisoners by human rights organisations. Despite calls to the Belarusian authorities for their release, they have been under arrest since November. Their release and an end to persecution of journalists in Belarus were called, among others, by The EU and a number of organisations defending the rights of journalists. The US Embassy in Minsk called the case against reporters "one of many examples of politically motivated manipulation of regulations by the authorities to silence the media."

In 2020, Belsat journalists were arrested 162 times. They were sentenced to a total of 34 administrative arrests and fines of over USD 26,300 (EUR 21,768).