It took three days for the Frunzensky District Court of Minsk to consider a criminal case against Katerina Bakhvalova [Andreeva] and Darya Chultsova, the Belsat journalists who were streaming from Change Square on November 15, 2020. State Prosecutor Alina Kasyanchik considered that their guilt in committing a crime under Part 1 of Article 342 of the Criminal Code was proven, and requested two years of imprisonment in an ordinary regime colony for each. Today, judge Natalya Buguk made a decision: to find both guilty and impose a sentence of two years in prison.
“Do you understand the verdict?” asked the judge.
“No, we don’t,” Daria and Katerina said in unison.
“Why wouldn’t you sentence us for 25 years?” asked Darya.
According to the court decision, material evidence: four diaries, stickers, a white-red-white fabric must be destroyed, equipment and Press vests – confiscated. A dictaphone, laptops, a player, a camera, telephones, money should be released from arrest and handed over to Bakhvalova and Chultsova.
Katerina Bakhvalova and Daria Chultsova were detained on the evening of November 15, 2020. On that day, they were broadcasting live from an apartment in the “Square of Change”, where a makeshift memorial was set up. Livestream lasted for more than five hours: journalists showed how people gather, security forces disperse and detain them, and then remove the memorial. After the protesters were dispersed, the law enforcers entered the apartment and detained the journalists.
Later they were charged under Part 1 of Article 342 of the Criminal Code [organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order or active participation in them – Ed.]. Daria Chultsova and Katerina Bakhvalova have been in jail for more than three months now. They were denied the request to change the measure of restraint during the trial. Human rights activists recognized them as political prisoners.
According to the investigation, the journalists organised “a gathering of active participants who grossly violated public order”, which caused disruption in the work of public transport. By voicing information from “destructive accounts on social media”, they gathered active participants “in order to arrange mass gathering able to resist the actions of law enforcement officers”. The defence insisted on the innocence of the journalists.
On the day when Katerina and Darya were streaming, mobile internet in Minsk was shut down, that is, the protesters could not watch the live broadcast. Linguistic experts did not find any calls to actions in the statements of Katerina Bakhvalova. In their opinion, the information reported during the live broadcast is neutral in nature. None of the witnesses for the prosecution said that it was the actions of the journalists that led to the gathering of people in the courtyard.
“In fact, we have established that Katerina Bakhvalova was doing her job as a journalist. For these actions, she and Darya Chultsova have been behind bars for more than three months. We believe that there is no corpus delicti in the actions of Bakhvalova and Chultsova,” stressed lawyer Sergei Zikratsky in the court hearings.
According to the investigation, the actions of the journalists led to the stoppage of 19 public transport routes, which caused damage to Minsktrans for more than BYN 11,000 [~$4,430/3,700]. Although the court did not establish who exactly blocked the traffic, the families of Chultsova and Bakhvalova paid for the damage, and the company dropped the civil suit against the journalists.
In their final statements in court, the journalists pleaded not guilty and stressed that all the materials of the case prove it.
Featured image: Nasha Niva