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October 26, 2021 Report Launch

Trial Observation Report: Belarus v. Katsiaryna Andreyeva and Daria Chultsova

This report details violations of fair trial and other rights observed in criminal proceedings against journalists Katsiaryna Andreyeva and Daria Chultsova in Belarus, a bald attack on independent media.

Katsiaryna Andreyeva and Daria Chultsova are journalists in Belarus.

Katsiaryna Andreyeva and Daria Chultsova are journalists in Belarus.

Photo Credit: Belsat TV, 2021 (, via Spring 96.


Over the course of four hearings held in February 2021, the American Bar Association (ABA) Center for Human Rights and Human Rights Embassy monitored the trial of journalists Katsiaryna Andreyeva and Daria Chultsova in Belarus as part of the Clooney Foundation for Justice’s Trial Watch initiative. Ms. Andreyeva and Ms. Chultsova were charged with the “organization of group actions that grossly violated public order” on the basis of their live reporting on a demonstration. They were convicted and sentenced to two years in prison. From their initial arrest in November 2020 to their convictions three months later, the proceedings constituted a severe abuse of their fair trial rights: among others, their right to the presumption of innocence, their right to call and examine witnesses, and their right to judicial impartiality.

The entirety of the case, as evinced by the absolute lack of evidence against Ms. Andreyeva and Ms. Chultsova, was geared towards suppressing independent journalism and sending a warning signal to other media outlets reporting on mass demonstrations in Belarus. The prosecution of Ms. Andreyeva and Ms. Chultsova is just the tip of the iceberg with respect to the stifling of independent media in Belarus and the harassment of journalists attempting to report accurately on events in the country. Indeed, since the conviction of Ms. Andreyeva and Ms. Chultsova, the Belarusian authorities have passed laws prohibiting reporting on unauthorized protests altogether; have forced the landing of a passenger jet carrying an opposition blogger; and have raided and shut down the few remaining independent outlets in the country. With trials in Belarus increasingly closed to the public, the observation of the proceedings against Ms. Andreyeva and Ms. Chultsova provides a window into how the Belarusian authorities are using the justice system to smother independent journalism and attack those who would expose these dangerous developments.

Ms. Andreyeva and Ms. Chultsova are both correspondents for Belsat TV, a Poland-based media outlet operating in Belarus. On November 15, 2020, they were assigned to cover a demonstration. The demonstration was in honor of a protester reportedly killed by the police. For the purposes of their assignment, a Belsat producer secured permission to use an apartment overlooking the demonstration, from which Ms. Andreyeva and Ms. Chultsova would be allowed to broadcast live. Ms. Andreyeva reported on the demonstration while Ms. Chultsova operated the camera. Apart from a 15-30 minute period during which the two journalists left the apartment to interview protesters down below, they remained inside the apartment for the duration of the protest until their arrest.

Approximately five hours after the broadcast started, police officers burst through the door and arrested Ms. Andreyeva and Ms. Chultsova. They were initially convicted of an administrative offense but were subsequently charged with the criminal offense of organizing group actions that grossly violate public order under Article 342 of the Criminal Code. Their trial started on February 9, 2021, before the Frunzensky District Court in Minsk, and ended on February 18 with their conviction.

The guilty verdict against Ms. Andreyeva and Ms. Chultsova flouted the presumption of innocence. The prosecution alleged that Ms. Chultsova and Ms. Andreyeva had organized the protests, relying heavily on excerpts from their coverage of the demonstration; however, the broadcast contained no sign that the two journalists had galvanized protesters or issued any other calls to action. Instead, an objective analysis of the broadcast reveals that it constituted routine coverage of a nationally newsworthy event. Despite this lack of any incriminating evidence, the court convicted the accused.

The verdict is riddled with absurdities. For example, it cites as evidence of the women’s guilt the testimony of a prosecution witness (a resident of a neighboring apartment), who stated that the protest had already started before the journalists arrived, that he never saw them, and that he instead saw four other men outside who appeared to be coordinating the protests. The court further cited interviews the journalists conducted with protesters as evidence that they themselves had participated in the protests. Meanwhile, defense witnesses, exonerating evidence, and arguments in support of the accused were summarily dismissed, in some cases without explanation and in other cases with the court simply referring back to the supposedly incendiary broadcast.

The trial proceedings themselves were marred by violations of fair trial rights. The prosecution, for example, alleged that Ms. Andreyeva and Ms. Chultsova’s organization of the protest had caused traffic blockages. In support of this assertion, the prosecution called as a witness a representative of a public transport company. On cross examination, however, the witness was unable to answer basic questions about how and why traffic had stopped, including which specific tram and trolley routes were obstructed, and had no information about the journalists’ responsibility for any such blockages. When the witness ultimately acknowledged that he had not been directly involved in the traffic assessment and that he could identify another witness who might be able to provide more details, the court simply shut down further questions, denying the defense the opportunity to obtain information relevant to its case. The court further denied defense requests to obtain official records of why traffic was stopped on the day of the protests and whether law enforcement had perhaps played a role. This conduct violated the women’s right to adequate facilities to prepare their defense as well as their right to call and examine witnesses and to confront the evidence against them.

The dearth of evidence supporting the criminal charges, the conduct of the proceedings, and the overarching crackdown on independent media in Belarus clearly indicate that the accused were prosecuted for their journalistic endeavors, in violation of guarantees against abuse of process. Tellingly, at closing argument, the prosecution explicitly stated: “that the accused carried out a live broadcast already confirms the fact that they organized illegal actions.” This assertion essentially equates routine reporting with the commission of a crime.  Additionally, throughout the proceedings, the court and prosecution arbitrarily highlighted the accused’s lack of formal media accreditation as somehow dispositive of their role in the protests.

The court’s verdict, for example, foregrounds this issue, stating that the accused’s claims that they were engaged in “exclusively journalistic activity” were undermined by the fact that they are “not accredited as any correspondents of foreign media” and that “the professional activities of journalists of foreign mass media on the territory of the Republic of Belarus without accreditation is prohibited.” The question of accreditation status, however, was not probative of whether Ms. Andreyeva and Ms. Chultsova were guilty of organizing group actions that grossly violated public order. In fact, the women were operating without accreditation precisely because the authorities have consistently refused to accredit independent media. The court’s unjustified focus on this point thus suggests that Ms. Andreyeva and Ms. Chultsova were targeted solely for conveying reportage that was critical of the government.

Meanwhile, the verdict, echoing allegations made by the prosecution, highlights the fact that the accused broadcast information “provided by destructive accounts of social networks”: namely, Telegram channels involved in spreading word about the protests.  Again, this phrasing suggests a predisposition against channels on Telegram – to which the verdict was presumably referring – that host speech that is critical of the government and, according to the court, therefore “destructive.” All of the above suggests a prosecution driven by improper motives. That the charges were used to retaliate against Ms. Andreyeva and Ms. Chultsova for their work as journalists also violated their right to freedom of expression.

While the accused’s appeals against their conviction have already been dismissed and all domestic remedies exhausted, the international community must continue to pressure the Belarusian government to cease abuse of the justice system for political ends and to protect independent media. Current monitoring mechanisms, such as the ongoing Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights investigation and the International Accountability Platform, should highlight such violations as part of their documentation efforts. Moreover, the United States and other countries should impose sanctions on bad actors within the judicial system, such as the judge who presided over the unfair trial and wrongful conviction that is the subject of this report, the prosecutor who brought charges in the first place, the investigative authorities that imposed pretrial detention, and the police who conducted the investigation and prepared the indictment. The EU has already imposed sanctions on some of these individuals, a measure which would be strengthened by multilateral coordination.



The views expressed herein represent the opinions of the authors. They have not been reviewed or approved by the House of Delegates or the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association and, accordingly, should not be construed as representing the position of the Association or any of its entities. Furthermore, nothing in this report should be considered legal advice for specific cases. Additionally, the views expressed in this report are not necessarily those of the Clooney Foundation for Justice.