The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

The text was published as a part of a blog relay highlighting the 250th anniversary of the adoption of legal guarantees for freedom of information and a free press in Sweden.

‘The Belarusian information space is dynamically developing,’ they say. ‘Freedom of speech doesn’t mean permissiveness,’ they add hastily.

No doubt, it doesn’t! The blogger Eduard Palchys can confirm it indeed. He created a Web-site – www.1863x.com – a couple of years ago. He criticized severely the actions of Russia in Ukraine there. However, the sharpness and even provocative remarks are acceptable for expressing opinions, especially during the discussion of political issues! It has been noted repeatedly in the decisions of the European Court. They don’t read the Court verdicts. Palchys was detained and subjected to psychiatric treatment. Then, he spent several months in a pre-trial jail. The blogger was tried. The good news was that he wasn’t imprisoned. The bad news was that he was convicted.

However, they can also punish you for quite innocent publications. Thus, they fined a journalist Tatsiana Smotkina for her Web article ‘All Roads will Be Positive in Hlybokaye’ last year. The article dwelt upon a public action, arranged by the students of the local Arts school. They painted manhole covers on the town roads. One may wonder what might cause the claim.

The punishment was reasoned by the mere fact of publishing the article on the Web-site of ‘Radio Racyja’ from Poland. There have been registered around fifty cases of the kind within the recent three years. The journalists are neither penalized for inaccuracies in their materials nor blamed for the content of their publications. They are punished for the mere fact of cooperation with foreign media without the press accreditation. Kastus Zhukouski from Homiel has been fined seven times on the charges since the beginning of this year and thirty times in general.

However, it is important that both Kastus and Tatsiana continue to work. Also, it is essential that Eduard hasn’t fallen silent. They feel the support of their colleagues and the public in general. Also, they realize the mission of their profession.

Apart from being among the fundamental human rights and liberties, the freedom of expression makes a criterion of respect for all other rights. We stand up for the law, despite being unprotected by the law nowadays.

Andrei Bastunets

Belarusian Association of Journalists, Chairperson.