19 June 2008
BAJ Calls For Solidarity in Protest Campaign Against the New Media Law
The web-site of Nasha Niva appealed to its readers and all the citizens of Belarus to address the Chamber of Representatives and protest against a new draft law on the media that was adopted by MPs in the first reading.
"There is a threat for free Internet. The final adoption of the law will lead to the beginning of control over Internet. We can´t let it happen. We ask all the readers of nn.by to send to the Chamber of Representatives letters of protest against adoption of the new law on media. Please, spread this appeal through blogs, communities and networks. Invite international communities and networks to join this protest campaign", the journalists call.

There is a sample letter of protest:

"I protest against adoption of a new Law on the Media in the form it passed the first reading. I protest against the cynical requirement of media re-registration after the adoption of the law and after every change of an address. I protest against introducing registration of web-sites. I protest against passing the functions of control over Internet to District Prosecutors and to the Council of Ministers. There can be no sustainable development without the freedom of media, Internet, criticism. I ask to reject the draft law".

Email this or similar messages of protest can be sent too are:

admin@house.gov.by - the Chamber of Representatives

kulakovsky@house.gov.by - Mr. Yury Kulakouski, the Chairman of the Standing Committee on Human Rights, National Relations and the Media of the Chamber of Representatives

http://www.president.gov.by/press10650.html - the form of an appeal on the web-ste of the Presidential Administration

"It´s a pity, but electronic mail is not regarded as official document. That is why to support this protest campaign we ask you to print the appeal out and to send it via traditional post. Please, do so", Nasha Niva calls.

The postal address of the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus is:

Savetskaya str. 11, 220010, Minsk, Belarus

Belarusian Association of Journalists calls upon all its members and the journalists all over the world to support the protest campaign!

20 Journalists Refused at the Court Hearings on "Live Shield"

About 20 journalists could not be present at the court hearings on a criminal case of road police officers who tried to stop a drunk driver by compiling a "live shield" of cars with people inside in March 2008 on a highway near Minsk.

The hearings started 19 June in Zaslauje town of Minsk District. Only 3 or 4 journalists were able to enter the court room. The rest were not allowed by the police officers who said the room was overcrowded. About 20 journalists, both Belarusian and foreign, state and non-state, were left standing in the street outside the court, including reporters of Mir TV and Radio Channel, STV, Autobusiness newspaper, Salidarnasc web-site, and photo reporters of Nasha Niva, Komsomolskaya Pravda, Belgazeta and some other media.

According to Interfax News Agency, the correspondent of which was able to get inside, judge Iryna Maiko refused a solicitation of advocate Vera Stramkouskaya to let TV cameramen in.

As for the rest of the journalists, they were promised to be let in after the witnesses left it. But a lot of journalists left as they did not have time to wait.

It was also impossible to write a complaint about the actions of the police officers, as nobody was let in the court building or given the possibility to write in the book of complaints.

One More "Green Channel" for Journalists Turned Red

18 June Halina Samujlik, a journalist of Inform-Progulka newspaper from Luninets, was not allowed to the session of Mikashevichy Town Council.

The Editor of the newspaper Sviatlana Harda told BAJ Press Service there have been no such obstacles to the work of Inform-Progulka in Mikashevichy so far. According to Mrs. Harda, it was Viktar Rafalovich, Deputy Chairperson of Luninets District Executive Committee, who issued an instruction not to let non-state journalists to official meetings. He was present at the meeting of Mikashevichy Town Executive Committee and expressed his surprise to see a journalist of an independent newspaper there.

At the same time Halina Samujlik has been accredited at Mikashevichy Town Executive Committee since 2003.

In April 2008 Sviatlana Harda was refused accreditation at Luninets District Executive Committee. The officials gave her their permission to "cover mass public and cultural events" instead of accreditation, but they do not let her be present at the meetings of the Executive Committee. The journalists of Inform-Progulka newspaper tried to complain about that to Brest Regional Executive Committee, but the regional authorities saw no violation in such a decision of the district ones.

Prof. Mikhail Pastukhou: "Only unpopular laws pass two readings within one session..." 

By all means, the presently regarded draft media law is among the unpopular bills. Consequently, it is quite probable that the MPs will hasten with its consideration, Prof. Mikhail Pastukhou, a former judge of Constitutional Court of Belarus and the Head of Law Center for Media Protection at BAJ believes. Thus, he has commented upon the support of Belarus´ draft law "On the Media" by the Chamber of Representatives after the first reading on June 17, 2008. 

It should be emphasized that the BAJ media experts consider it to be highly regressive. 

"Every draft law is discussed in the course of two readings. A conceptual discussion of bills takes place after the first reading. In particular, the MPs evaluate the structure of the bill and think whether it has to be revised. Afterwards, the draft law is forwarded for further discussion to the same committee that recommended it for consideration.  (It is the Standing Committee on Human Rights, National Relations and Mass Media, chaired by Yury Kulakouski in this case.) The Committee has to consider all notes and proposals, received in the process of preparing the draft law. The remarks from civil groups have to be regarded as well. 

Then the draft law is sent back to the Chamber of Representatives for the second reading. In the overwhelming majority of cases the second reading takes place at the following session", the media lawyer emphasized.

"However, it is not forbidden to hold the second discussion during the current session. Such cases took place in the past. As a rule, such bills didn´t require considerable revision. They were quite small and didn´t have any critical notes. Still, a range of laws was adopted in a hasty manner due to their unpopularity (e.g., the Belarus´ Law "On Abolition of Social Benefits", supported in May 2007), M. Pastukhou noted. 

The media expert believes that the draft media law is quite "unpopular". "The expressions, delivered by Yury Kulakouski in his talk with he BAJ Press Service on June 17, 2008 confirm the legislators´ desire to pass the law as soon as possible. However, it will have to be considered at the Council of the Republic. As a rule no discussions take place in the upper chamber of the Belarusian parliament. Consequently, the final adoption of the law may take no longer than two days. Consequently, the President will get an opportunity to sign the law. Then, the legal document will come into force in half a year after its official publication in the press. Should the media law be adopted at the present session, it will come into force at the beginning of 2009. Then, all media outlets will have to get re-registered, as the draft law stipulates", Mikhail Pastukhou emphasized.  

"Vitsiebskiy Kuryer M" Officially Warned by the Ministry of Information of Belarus 

The Ministry of Information of Belarus has issued a written warning to the "Vitsiebskiy Kuryer M" non-state periodical edition. The newspaper´s legal advisor Pavel Levinau informed the BAJ Press Service that the warning was connected with the output data, published in the periodical. 

"When we introduced changes and amendments to the Statutory Notes, we sent a copy of the new document to the Ministry of Information. The new legal address was stated there. However, Vitsiebsk Regional Executive Committee cancelled its own decision about the introduction of changes and amendments to the Statutory Notes later on, Pavel Levinau emphasized. Consequently, our previous legal address (Gagaryn Street, 24-11, Vitsiebsk) can be found in all the documents, related to our periodical edition, in the Ministry of Justice as well as in the Chief Department of Justice at Vitsiebsk Regional Executive Committee. However, we publish our postal address in the newspaper as well, as we are located their in reality. It should be reminded that the previous rental agreement expired and the renter was ordered to avoid its prolongation with the newspaper editorial".  

"Presently, the newspaper editorial team is regarding the possibility of sending an appeal against the official warning, issued by the Ministry of Information of Belarus", Pavel Levinau said. "Then, if necessary, the editorial may submit a claim to the court", he added.

BAJ Calls upon MPs to Abstain from Taking Hasty Decisions

June 13, 2008

The Belarusian Association of Journalists sent personal letters of appeal to each of 110 MPs of the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus on June 12, 2008. The wave of appeals was caused by a draft law "On Mass Media", which the parliamentarians are going to consider next week. 

BAJ reminded to the members of parliament that the citizens of Belarus have a lawful right to take part in discussion and evaluation of draft bills that infringe on their constitutional rights and liberties, including the freedom of opinion, the freedom of expression as well as the right to receive and disseminate information without hindrances. 

Consequently, BAJ called upon the MPs to facilitate a public discussion of the discussed draft law "On Mass Media" before the first reading as well as to take into account the international obligations of Belarus, the opinions of voters and all interested people and organizations, while considering the bill.

A Long Check of Dictaphones

June 13, 2008

The technical equipment, seized from independent journalists during a range of KGB searches on April 27-28, 2008 will be returned to the owners, the RL/RFE reports with a reference to Minsk Public Prosecutor´s office.

It should be reminded that hard drives, Dictaphones and diverse printed materials were seized from a large number of non-state media workers by the special services within a legal investigation on the criminal case against the authors of political cartoons about the President of Belarus and other Belarusian top governmental officials. 

Viktar Shaban, a legal investigator of Minsk Public Prosecutor´s office declared in his interview to the RL/RFE that the criminal case is suspended until the culprits are found. 

V. Shaban assured a correspondent from "Belnarod" on-line edition that the seized computers and Dictaphones would be returned to the independent journalists during the following week.

Hienadz Sudnik, an independent journalist from Mahilou says that nobody has informed him about the decision yet.

"I appealed to the Public Prosecutor´s Office indeed and wrote different appeals... However, no signs of any changes have been seen so far. They took a hard drive from my computer. I know that they seized different stuff from the colleagues of mine: audio cassettes, technical equipment, connected with TV, some literature and some papers. Sometimes, it was really funny. Thus, they confiscated a fax machine and couldn´t explain the reason for that, mentioning that they would clear it out later."

Also, a journalist Eduard Mielnikau noted that the seized technical equipment hasn´t been returned to him yet. He told that apart from the computer equipment, the KGB workers had confiscated the books he wrote about TV as well as about his visit to the United States that logically can have absolutely no relation to the criminal case against the authors of political cartoons.

Military Service Immediately after Graduation from Journalism Department

June 13, 2008

Yuras Dziashuk, who has graduated from the Department of Journalism at the Belarusian State University this year, is urgently sent to do the obligatory military service. The young guy is an activist of the Youth Branch at the BPF Party. Y. Dziashuk has already defended his thesis. He will be given his university diploma on June 27, 2008. 

Surprisingly, Yury Dziashuk has been summoned to the local military registration and enlistment office the other day. It appeared that he had to start his obligatory military service in a detachment of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, located in the Belarusian capital. 

Ales Kalita, the Head of the Youth Branch at the BPF Party noted that such urgent enlistment of Yuras Dziashuk as well as the increased attention of military registration and enlistment offices to other democratic youth activists, including the recent case with Franak Viachorka, expelled from the Journalism Department recently, might be connected with the coming Parliamentary election. 

Yuras Dziashuk believes that his enlistment to the detachment of the Ministry of Internal Affairs must be aimed at Ťreformingť his lifestyle.

Press Service of Belarusian Association of Journalists