Official: Suspects in BelTA case will get no harsh punishment

Suspects in a so-called BelTA case may not get harsh punishment as their crime does not pose a serious danger to society, Ivan Naskevich, head of the Investigative Committee of Belarus, said in an interview broadcast on the Belarus One television channel on Thursday night.

Mr. Naskevich described the case as “simple” and stressed that it was not difficult to investigate but had attracted wide publicity because journalists were involved.

“The factual data that we have already obtained in the course of the investigation say that those accused in the case realized what they were doing and, very regrettably, either did not care about that or deliberately embarked on this path,” said the Investigative Committee head, describing the case as a “precedent.”

“I think the investigation of the case will not take too long,” Mr. Naskevich added. He noted that the examination of computers and other equipment seized in the case had slowed down the inquiry but said that “we are ready for the final phase of the investigation.”

The BelTA case was opened after the Belarusian government’s news agency BelTA had complained about the use of its paid information products by unauthorized people.

The Investigative Committee announced on August 7 that criminal proceedings had been instituted under Part Two of the Criminal Code’s Article 349, which penalizes “unauthorized access to computer information.” The article carries a penalty of a fine or a prison term of up to two years or a “restricted freedom” term of up to two years.

The Investigative Committee said that the unauthorized use of BelTA’s paid information services had caused damage to the news agency and “undermined its business reputation.”

A total of 18 journalists were arrested in the BelTA case between August 7 and August 9. Ten of them were released after questioning and eight were placed in custody.

Officers of the Investigative Committee conducted searches at the offices of BelaPAN, and some other media organizations.

BelaPAN staff writer Tanya Korovenkova and journalists Maryna Zolatava, Hanna Kaltyhina, Hanna Yermachonak and Halina Ulasik spent two days in jail and were released on the evening and night of August 9.

Alyaksey Zhukaw, an editor with the online newspaper Belorusy i Rynok who was arrested on August 8, was also released on August 9.

Pawlyuk Bykowski, Deutsche Welle’s correspondent in Minsk, was arrested on August 8 and was released on August 10 following his interrogation at the Minsk office of the Investigative Committee.

BelaPAN Editor in Chief Iryna Lewshyna, who was arrested on the morning of August 9, was released the following day.

Most of the suspects have since been banned from traveling abroad.