Belarus: IFJ condemns search of Belsat TV premises over a defamation investigation

Premises of TV Channel Belsat were searched on April 9 by the Investigative Committee of Belarus as part of a criminal investigation of a defamation case. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its Belarusian affiliate, the BAJ, in its condemnation of the search and urges the government to stop prosecuting the media under defamatory articles of the Criminal Code and to return immediately all the seized equipment. 

Search in Belsat premises. Credit: Belsat.

The operation lasted for more than four hours and left the premises in a “complete mess”, according to the BAJ. Officers seized two system units, three laptops and all data storage devices.

According to Investigative Committee, the investigation was part of a criminal case of dissemination of defamatory information. Journalists believe it could be linked to the publication of a corruption story by Belsat in July 2018. At that time, the TV channel made a mistake in its website by referring erroneously to the General Andrey Shved about alleged corruption.

In July 2018, we made an unfortunate error when publishing a text about alleged corruption in the Health Ministry under the corresponding video story. Due to a technical error, the draft was published, not the final version of the text. We would like to point out that the video material did not contain any mistakes. We quickly set the record straight, published a refutation and offered our apologies to General Andrey Shved whom the mistake concerned”, Belsat TV explained in a statement.

Belarus legislation on defamation is one of the most repressive in Europe. The Criminal Code comprises articles on slander, insult, defamation or insult the President, insult of a government official, discrediting the Republic of Belarus, and insult of a judge. These provisions are likely to favour silencing of the media and critical voices in general.

The BAJ said: “The use of criminal prosecution for protection of honour and dignity is disproportionate. Searches of journalists' homes and media offices interfere with the freedoms negating the right of journalists to protect their sources of information. In recent months, it has become almost the norm for the enforcement forces. In our opinion, such cases are to be heard exclusively within the civil law process.”

The IFJ, along with other international organisations such as the European Union or the OSCE, has repeatedly urged the Belarusian government to revise its legislation and to ensure press freedom. The IFJ stands in solidarity with its colleagues in Belarus and calls on authorities to implement the recommendations of international organisations in the field of freedom of expression.

For more information, please contact IFJ on +32 2 235 22 16

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 146 countries

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