Police detained Belarusian camerawoman Daria Chultsova in November 2020 while she was reporting live on protest actions in Minsk. A court charged Chultsova with “organizing and preparing of actions that grossly violate public order” and placed her under two months of pre-trial detention. In February 2021, a court sentenced her to two years in jail. She was one of dozens of journalists detained for documenting widespread demonstrations in the second half of 2020 calling on President Aleksandr Lukashenko to resign.
Chultsova is a staff camerawoman for Poland-based independent broadcaster Belsat TV in Belarus, and covers socio-political events and news, according to news reports. In the months prior to her arrest, she covered nationwide protests that erupted after the August 9, 2020, presidential election in which Lukashenko claimed victory, according to the same sources.
On November 15, 2020, police arrested Chultsova and her colleague, correspondent Katsiaryna Andreyeva, while the journalists were conducting a live video broadcast for Belsat TV from a 14th floor apartment located above Chervyakova street (known by the Belarusian opposition as “The Square of Changes”) in Minsk, the capital, according to news reports. The journalists were broadcasting clashes between the security officials and the defenders of the memorial to Raman Bandarenka that were taking place at the street below, according to those reports. Bandarenka was a Belarusian man who died on November 12 from head trauma allegedly inflicted by the law enforcement officers, according to news reports.
Approximately 10 law enforcement officers broke down the door of the apartment, arrested Chultsova and Andreyeva without explaining the reasons for that arrest, and took the journalists to the Oktyabrskiy district police department, and after that to the Center for the Isolation of Offenders, informally known as Akrestsin detention center, both in Minsk, according to news reports.
On November 17, 2020, Oktyabrskiy district court in Minsk found Chultsova guilty of participating on an unsanctioned protest action on November 15, and sentenced her to seven days of administrative arrest, according to news reports and Barys Haretski, the deputy head of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, an independent advocacy and trade group that was banned in 2021 but continues to track journalist detentions from inside Belarus. Haretski spoke with CPJ in a phone interview. She was not released after serving the seven days in detention, according to the same reports.
When Chultsova was not released, news reports speculated that she was being held on criminal charges; however, her lawyer could not verify that information, due to a strict non-disclosure agreement that he signed, according to those reports. On November 30, 2020, a criminal charge of “organizing and preparing of actions that grossly violate public order” against Chultsova was disclosed in an appeal hearing that day at the Frunzienskiy district court in Minsk, according to news reports.
On February 18 of this year, the Frunzienski District Court of Minsk found both Chultsova and Andreyeva guilty and sentenced each to two years in prison, according to banned Belarusian human rights organization Viasna, which operates unofficially in the country.
On April 23, the Minsk City Court, upheld the sentence on appeal, Viasna reported.
Chultsova is held in Jail No. 4 in southeastern city of Homel, according to Viasna.
In November 2021, CPJ called the Ministry of Interior’s press service but the phone was not answered. CPJ also emailed a request for comment to the Belarusian National Press Center, which covers the activities of the president, the national assembly, the council of ministers, the Belarus president’s administration, and other government bodies, but did not receive any response.