Journalists face legal and administrative challenges

Expression

Journalists facing challenges

In November 2019 it was reported that the Economic Court of the Brest Region obliged the Gantsevichi Council of Deputies to develop regulations on the accreditation of journalists. This decision followed the filing of a suit by independent regional newspaper Hantsavitski Chas to challenge a decision by Hantsavichy Local Council to deny accreditation to Hantsavitski Chas’ journalists. The suit was filed after an incident in March 2019, when the editorial board of the newspaper sent a letter to the local council asking to accredit its journalists. The leadership of the council however denied the accreditation, stating that there was no procedure for accrediting journalists.

The Economic Court however failed to recognise the refusal of accreditation by the local council as having been unlawful.

On 21st October 2019, it was reported that journalist Volha Bykouskaya from the independent online newspaper Bdg.by, was denied access to attend a session of the election commission in Minsk during the electoral campaign. Volha was denied entry and asked to leave the room even though she had her press card, as the commission insisted that she produce official accreditation papers. After the incident, upon inquiry by the Belarusian Association of Journalists, the Commission confirmed that a press card was the only thing required from journalists of media registered in Belarus.

Similarly, on 17th October 2019 it was reported that freelance journalist, Viktar Parfionenka, who has for many years been accredited as a journalist of the Belarusian Radio, was denied accreditation by the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Association

Results made public on the consultation about amendments to the legal framework on the activity of political parties and CSOs

As mentioned in the previous CIVICUS Monitor update, the legislation governing the activity of political parties and public associations in Belarus is transforming. Several public debates took place in July 2019 aimed at encouraging the participation of civil society in the process of "transparency" in amending the legislation in force. Not all civil society organisations were able to participate.

The results of the public debates and consultations were made public at a conference in August 2019. According to Elena Kirichenko, the head of the department for non-profit organisations of the Ministry of Justice, the clause requiring the issuance of a certificate of state registration of public associations would likely be excluded from the bill, although this requirement would likely remain for political parties, at least until the electoral code is amended.

With this new law, only 800 founders will be sufficient to create a political party (as previously 1000 founders were needed). For public associations, the number of obligatory founders decreased from 50 to 40 persons.

Peaceful Assembly

Taxi drivers go on strike across Belarus

Taxi drivers from the city of Mahilau, and later from other cities in Belarus (including Minsk), employees of the Russian company YandexTaxi, organized a strike in November 2019 to protest working conditions, insisting that the rates promoted by the taxi company be increased. The rates promoted by YandexTaxi are the lowest on the market. Also, the taxi drivers demanded that the company’s administration respond to the protesters by improving working conditions and enabling direct communication with the employer. More than 60 people in Mohilau participated in the protest, which they said was not the first attempt to draw the attention of the Russian taxi company to general working conditions.