Belarusian journalist Katsiaryna Barysevich was arrested in November 2020 on suspicion of violating medical confidentiality with “grave consequences” in an article about the death of a man during a protest. As of late 2020, she was detained without charge.
Barysevich is a staff correspondent at the independent news website Tut.by who covers court and legal proceedings and social issues, according to news reports. In the months prior to her arrest, Barysevich covered nationwide protests that erupted after the August 9, 2020, presidential election in which incumbent Aleksandr Lukashenko claimed victory, according to a CPJ review of her work.
Police in Belarus have been routinely arresting and charging journalists covering the antigovernment protests with “participating in unsanctioned rallies,” and sentencing them to short stays in prison or fines, CPJ has documented.
On the evening of November 19, 2020, plainclothes, masked police officers entered Barysevich’s apartment in Minsk, the capital, conducted a search, and detained her, according to a report by Tut.by and Barys Haretski, the deputy head of the Belarussian Association of Journalists, an independent trade group, who spoke with CPJ in a phone interview.
The law enforcement officers took Barysevich to the KGB (State Security Committee) pre-trial detention center, and on November 20, 2020, conducted the first interrogation of the journalist, according to those sources.
Barysevich was arrested on suspicion of “disclosure of medical confidentiality leading to grave consequences,” according to those reports and Haretski. If found guilty, she faces up to three years in prison, according to the Belarusian criminal code.
The accusation stems from an article in Tut.by by Barysevich published on November 13, 2020, in which she reported on the case of Raman Bandarenka, a Belarusian man who died on November 12 due to head trauma allegedly inflicted by law enforcement officers, according to news reports. In that article, Barysevich also included photographs of a copy of a medical report stating that upon post-mortem examination of Bandarenka, no traces of alcohol were found in his system, contradicting the statement made by the Belarusian Investigative Committee in its official Telegram channel that Bandarenka was drunk when the incident that led to his death took place, according to news reports and Tut.by chief editor Marina Zolatava, who spoke with CPJ via email. Bandarenka’s family granted permission to publish the medical document, according to Zolatava.
Bandarenka’s death, which occurred amid the wider antigovernment protests, sparked widespread media coverage and further unrest in Belarus, according to news reports. Reports by investigative outlets alleged that the police were responsible for his death; the reports found that Bandarenka was killed by “masked men,” allegedly law enforcement officers, who in the evening of November 11 came to a courtyard on Chervyakova street in Minsk to remove white and red ribbons that symbolize Belarusian anti-Lukashenko protests. Minsk police denied any wrongdoing, according to the statement posted by the Belarusian Investigative Committee on its official Telegram channel.
Zolatava told CPJ via email that the Belarusian authorities are now “waging a war against independent journalists” who are covering the protests.
On November 23, 2020, when Barysevich’s lawyer, Andrey Mochalov, attempted to visit his client in the detention center, he was not granted access to her, according to Mochalov, who spoke with CPJ via messaging app. Not allowing a lawyer access to his or her client is contrary to the Belarusian constitution, which guarantees “the right to legal assistance for the exercise and protection of rights and freedoms” to all Belarusians. However, in Belarusian detention centers the detainee can only get access to a lawyer after obtaining written permission from the investigator, according to Mochalov, who told CPJ that detention centers act upon regulations of the Belarusian criminal code, which contradicts the country’s constitution. While investigators do not typically refuse access of a lawyer to a detainee, in practice they often delay access as long as possible, Mochalov said.
No trial dates have been set, and as of late November 2020, Barysevich has not been formally charged and is being held at the KGB detention center, according to reports and Zolatava. Haretski told CPJ that Barysevich has not reported any health issues while in detention.
In November 2020, CPJ emailed a request for comment to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Belarus, but did not receive any response.