UN rapporteur condemns BelTA case
A so-called BelTA case is aimed at obliterating the remnants of journalistic independence in Belarus, according to Miklos Haraszti, the UN Human Rights Council's special rapporteur on the situation in Belarus.
In a statement published on the website of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Haraszti said that a wave of raids and arbitrary arrests of journalists in the BelTA case follows “oppressive” media regulations that were adopted in June and target independent online media outlets.
On August 7 and 8, officers of the Investigative Committee searched the offices of several independent media outlets, including Belarus` largest web portal tut.by and the country’s only independent news agency, BelaPAN.
At least 18 journalists were arrested, including tut.by editor in chief Maryna Zolatava, tut.by journalists Ulyana Babayed, Hanna Kaltyhina and Halina Ulasik, and BelaPAN reporter Tanya Korovenkova.
In addition, the outlets’ staff members were denied access to their offices during the searches.
Mr. Haraszti expressed particular concern about the arrest of Ms. Korovenkova, “who has regularly reported on the Special Rapporteur’s own findings, and has closely followed the concerns of UN human rights mechanisms regarding the situation in Belarus.”
According to Mr. Haraszti, the searches and the arrests were prompted by an alleged violation of the Criminal Code’s Article 349, which penalizes unauthorized access to computer information that may cause significant harm.
“What we are seeing is the sadly customary bogus criminalization of independent journalists,” Mr. Haraszti said. “This may simply be a case of journalists occasionally using each other’s passwords to access the news service of the state-owned BelTA news agency.”
“The allegation of ‘significant harm’ is disingenuous, given that BelTA is amply financed by taxpayers and not even a fraction of its revenues comes from subscriptions,” Mr. Haraszti noted.
“Silencing the last resources enabling Belarusians to learn about the UN’s human rights concerns is especially egregious given the Government’s claim of cooperation with the UN,” Mr. Haraszti said.
According to him, the human rights situation in Belarus is getting worse in the sixth year of his mandate. “International vigilance must now be extended to the fate of those who keep the public informed,” Mr. Haraszti concluded.
The statement has been endorsed by David Kaye, the UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
On July 6, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution extending the mandate of its special rapporteur on Belarus for one year.
The Belarusian government does not recognize the mandate.
The BelTA case was opened after the Belarusian government’s news agency BelTA had complained about the use of its paid information products by unauthorized people.