2010 16/03
Юля Дарашкевіч, Менск

Yulia Darashkevich, Мiеnsk

Yuliya Darashkevich, press photographer of “Nasha Niva”, is accused of beating a police officer and disobeying police. Yuliya faces a fine or administrative arrest. The hearings will take place on 24 – the day before the Freedom Day.

The events in question occurred on 16 February, when a solidarity action with political prisoners was held on Kastrychnitskaya Square. An officer Ignatiev took away Yuliya’s press card, then another man in civilian clothes who did not introduce himself took her to the bus, noting that the journalist allegedly slapped him.

The same evening, the press photographer was released without the protocol being signed. However, the case appeared again. On 15 March, several policemen came to her husband’s parents’ house looking for her. The same evening, people in civilian clothes would force the door of the apartment where Yuliya lives. Her husband did not open the door. Unknown people were gone after press photographer promised inspector Saladun in a telephone conversation that the next day she comes to him with a lawyer.

On 16 March, together with a lawyer Yuliya Darashkevich visited the Central police department of Minsk. Two administrative protocols were presented to Yuliya. According to the first, the journalist was accused of disobeying police officers while trying to take her to the service bus to get her to a police-station (Article 23.4 of the Administrative Code provides for a penalty from 20 to 50 of basic units). According to the second protocol, Darashkevich was accused of intentional infliction of minor injuries to a police officer (art.9.1 of the Administrative Code provides for a penalty from 10 to 30 of basic units or administrative detention). According to the medicolegal investigation, the injury did not lead to any health problems of policeman Vosipau who was allegedly struck by journalist. The lawyer and his client were not allowed to get acquainted with the case and were given the promise to do so in court. Yuliya Darashkevich signed protocols, indicating that she disagrees with the accusations. The process is scheduled for 24 March in Minsk Central District Court, the day before the traditional mass action on Freedom Day.

The Lawyer of HRC “Viasna” Valiantsin Stefanovich is sure what the police had acted illegally by preventing press photographer of “Nasha Niva” from the fulfillment of her professional duties, and that the police shall bear responsibility for their behavior:

On 16 February, the press photographer of “Nasha Niva” was detained by persons in civilian clothes when performing her professional duties during a mass action. First, it should be noted that recently the cases in which the representatives of law enforcement agencies prevent the work of independent media correspondents during mass events, have become a common practice. At the same time such violations are sufficiently open and have demonstrative character. The board of the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) appealed both to the Ministry of the Internal Affairs and to the General Prosecutor’s Office for a legal assessment of actions of representatives of law enforcement agencies, but no substantive reply was received.

Secondly, there was information that the Ministry of Internal Affairs (the MIA) intends to develop a journalist guide for covering mass actions not permitted by the governmental authorities, based in the German experience. It is hard to say who came up with this idea, but the instructions of the Ministry of Internal Affairs cannot regulate the status of journalists. Instructions of the MIA is an internal ministerial act, which applies to police officers. Journalists’ rights are regulated by the Law on Mass Media, as evidenced by the European practice. Here we have rather Iranian experience, where it is forbidden for press photographers to shoot. This is why the recent after-election protests were filmed on mobile phones and transmitted through the modern means of communication so that the international community knows about the situation in the country. And this is also an experience. So I think that the Ministry of Internal Affairs rather inclined to adopt the Iranian experience, than German.

All this together suggests that the Ministry of Internal Affairs is keen to limit the legitimate activities of independent journalists, because according to the Law “On mass media”, a journalist has the right to attend the mass events. And the law enforcement authorities’ reference to the fact that someone does not want to be filmed is nonsense. Any action is a public event, the police officers are in the performance of their duties, and journalists have the right to photograph everything that happens, regardless of whether someone like it or not.

This practice is in consistent with international practice as the event is held in public purpose, showing something to society, and people who take part in it also have the status of public persons. In such cases videos and photos served as the public control over the activities of law enforcement agencies.

We ca not understand for what reason the policemen act in civilian clothes: they are the representatives of government and should be properly visible. If is difficult to determine the police by appearance, then on what grounds people have to obey? Let they wear the uniform, because I do not have to guess who this is? Other countries try to avoid the anonymity of the secret services. For example, in Sweden, if the police is involved in dispersal of public demonstrations, all policemen have personal digital numbers on their helmets. So, if the violation of the citizen’s legitimate rights occur, it is possible to identify a person and conduct an independent investigation.

Thus, charges of disobedience to the legal requirements against Yuliya Darashkevich (exactly the legal requirements) are initially illegal. The press photographer has the appropriate badge as the representative of the media, and the actions of police officers, aimed at closing the camera with his hands, push, suffocation (as it is in the case of Siarhei Gryts, captured by the photo) and other similar actions are clearly illegal, and journalists are not obliged to obey such actions. We, human rights defenders, unambiguously regard the actions of police officers as a violation of the right to freedom of speech and we believe that this practice should be stopped.

According to spring96.org,

prepared by Ales Leta,
Belarusian Legal Portal,
by.prava-by.info

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