Belarusian Court Rules Against Free Speech

A court in the Republic of Belarus just decided against an Associated Press journalist investigating effects of Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The ruling fits a pattern of state-sponsored suppression of information unfavorable to the Belarusian nuclear-energy program. Belarusian journalists say the decision imposes a chilling effect on investigative journalism in their country.

Marking the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster last April, the Associated Press reported results of a laboratory test of milk collected from a dairy farm bordering the Chernobyl exclusion zone. A bottled sample was sent to a Belarusian state laboratory. According to the lab results, the milk contained the radioactive isotope Strontium-90 at levels 10 times higher than safety standards permit. Strontium-90 binds to bone like calcium, and can cause bone cancer.

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Lab results received by Associated Press from the Minsk Center of Hygiene and Epidemiology.

The story did not sit well with the dairy farmer, who filed suit against the Associated Press reporter. Then on December 23, the judge ruled in favor of the farmer for damages to his reputation. The judge also ruled that the AP reporter must publish a retraction, even though he and the AP stand behind their story.

The judge refused to allow the laboratory results and key witnesses. The judge also ignored the defense’s appeal to Article 52 of Belarusian media law that exempts journalists from legal liability for reporting information from a government agency, which the lab results were. Article 52 should have put and end to the trail before it even began. If the farmer and court believed the lab test was wrong, they should have named the lab as defendant. They should have also conducted follow-up tests to prove the AP’s test was unreliable. Instead, they chose to target Belarusian journalism.

Not The First Time

This is not the first time journalists reporting on Chernobyl have been the the targets of official persecution in Belarus. Belarusian reporters covering anti-nuclear and Chernobyl protests have been arrested and beaten by police, and had their photographs destroyed (see examples in the video above). Even Belarusian scientist live under the boot of the Belarusian nuclear-power agenda. Professor Bandazhevsky, founder of the Gomel State Medical Institute, was arrested and then convicted in 2001 on charges fabricated by the Belarusian government. About Bandazhevsky’s case, the United States National Academy of Sciences, Commission on Human rights states:

“Prior to his arrest in July 1999 … Professor Bandazhevsky studied the effects of the Chernobyl disaster on the health of people living in proximity to that nuclear reactor who were seriously affected by its radioactive emissions. … After close examination of the facts of the case, the CHR concluded that Professor Bandazhevsky was arrested for his outspoken criticism of Belarusian government policies regarding the health effects of the Chernobyl disaster on the local population.”

Bandazhevsky served four years in jail on bogus charges. A criminal aggression that informed Belarusian scientists to tow the state’s pro-nuclear line, or else. More recent state-sponsored assaults on journalists covering Chernobyl and antinuclear protests, and now the ruling against the AP reporter, inform us that the Belarusian pro-nuclear police state is alive and well.

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