“She urged others to continue the rally”

Maria Eleshevich, Komsomolskaya Pravda journalist, is accused of participating in the student rally that she covered

2 September 2020, 21:46 | Alesya Dobysh, Komsomolskaya Pravda
The KP journalist Maria Eleshevich is being tried in Minsk for participation in an unsanctioned rally.
Source: Dmitry Lasko, KP

Maria was detained for accreditation verification on 1 September at 5 p.m. with two other journalists from Komsomolskaya Pravda (KP) – Svyatoslav Zorky and Nikita Nedoverkov.

The cases of the journalists, who were detained on 1 September in the city center, were heard on Wednesday, 2 September, in the Oktyabrsky District Court. The trial started around 3:30 p.m. By then, the reporters had spent almost a full day in the Oktyabrsky district police department of Minsk. They spent the night in the assembly hall.

Komsomolskaya Pravda journalists were detained around 5 p.m. on 1 September when they were covering a student protest. All of them had their badges on. Svyatoslav Zorky (this is a pseudonym, real name – Sergei Shchegolev) and Nikita Nedoverkov (Duboleko) were wearing vests with “Press” on them. As a reminder, journalists have the right to attend and report from rallies, regardless of the rallies’ authorization status. TUT.BY journalists Nadezhda Kalinina and Aleksey Sudnikov and BelaPAN journalist Andrei Shavlyuga were also detained that evening. For several hours, their colleagues could not find their whereabouts. No one explained why the journalists were being held.

They spent the whole night in the police department. Police reports were drawn up against all six journalists under Article 23.34 “Violation of the procedure of organizing or holding mass events”. It is still unknown when Svyatoslav Zorky’s and Nikita Nedoverkov’s trials will take place: the police reports were sent to the police department for revision.

Maria (who was in the police department) was not brought to court, but was contacted via Skype. The police report, read by judge Olga Neborskaya, stated that Maria participated in the unauthorized street march and encouraged other participants to carry on. The journalist did not admit her guilt. She said that she was working on an editorial assignment and did not urge the rally participants to do anything.

I had a press badge that was visible. The riot police officer who detained my colleagues and me said that we should get onto a bus for accreditation verification. That is, they approached me not as a rally participant, but as a journalist. Tactical police officers said that they had received a document to pick up journalists and check their accreditation. One of the police officers in the minibus was recording everything on a video camera.

Maria said that she was almost always (whenever possible) away from the crowd.

In the police department, the detained journalists had been told over the course of three hours that their accreditation had been in the process of verification, and information had been requested from various departments.

“Then, they said they were drawing up a police report against us. No one explained why.”

“This is equivalent to detaining policemen who are also at the rally”

Witness Natalya Galeznik spoke in court. She is the general director of BelKP-PRESS CJSC that publishes KP. She said that Maria Eleshevich had several editorial tasks, and that day she had to write two articles, including the one about the student rally.

“I know that my employees were detained, and it obstructs the production process. These people are irreplaceable, we have a small staff. We cannot find out why they were kept at the police station overnight,” said Natalya Galeznik. “They do not participate in the rallies, they work there. This is equivalent to detaining policemen who are also at the rally.”

The witness reminded the court of Minister of Internal Affairs Yuri Karayeu’s directive that government security forces should not touch journalists.

We do not understand how to send people to do their job. As for the accusations, Maria is a most experienced employee, she is beyond poised, and I am convinced that she did not commit any illegal actions. She did not encourage anything, I am sure that it is impossible to confuse her with the participants of the rally.

Another witness, student Elizaveta Khadakovskaya, was also on Kirov Street around 5 p.m. She said that she was passing by. Elizaveta said that when the arrests of students began, the journalists tried to stay away from the crowd.

The journalists were far from the main clashes. They did not even stay together. All of them were in blue vests, and with badges clearly visible on some. They did not thrust their cameras at either riot police or protesters.

Did the court question a fake witness?

A witness was being interrogated via Skype. He introduced himself as Aleksandr Kovalev, a riot police officer. He spoke incomprehensibly, and answered questions strangely.

“What is your place of residence?” the judge asked a standard question.

“Minsk,” the witness answered. He did not give his title. The man had a mask on his face with only his eyes visible.

Maria’s lawyer, Andrei Mochalov, doubted that the witness was actually Aleksander Kovalev.

I have already encountered this individual during the other trials. He is known for being in several places in the city at the same time, for example, he explained that he was simultaneously in Malinovka and on Kamennaya Gorka. I ask you to introduce yourself and take off your mask.

The man onscreen hesitated, but did not remove his mask. Police officers came to his rescue, stating that his identity had already been verified. The lawyer noted that besides the fake Kovalev in front of him, the police report also indicated a non-existent address at which Kovalev had been reported to reside.

“He is said to reside at number 43, Heroes of 120th Division Street – there is no such house in Minsk.”

The court announced a recess to find out the identity of the witness.

“I will not take off my mask, I am afraid of threats towards riot policemen”

After the break, the court interrogated another witness, who identified himself as Sergei Ignatiev, an riot police officer. This person was also wearing a black balaclava with slits for eyes. An employee of the police department said that this person had no ID on him, but his identity had been confirmed by police.

“This is our employee, I know him!” said the employee of the police department.

The witness’s passport was not provided to the court.

“There is no such thing as a secret witness. I suspect that this is the same person who previously introduced himself as Kovalev,” said lawyer Andrei Mochalov. “Can you take off your mask?”

“I am afraid of threats towards riot policemen, their families, and children,” the witness refused. The court did not object.

Ignatiev said that at 4:50 p.m., he detained journalists near the Dynamo stadium. He saw their badges.

“When they walked in the crowd, these citizens urged students and other participants to stay and continue to march.”

According to the witness, Maria also motivated others “to continue the unauthorized mass event”. After several clarifying questions from the lawyer, the man in the mask gave examples:

She said, “People, continue to march, go ahead, stay.” The journalists walked in front of the column on Internatsionalnaya Streets, Nezalezhnosti Avenue, Nemiga, Gorodskoj Val.

However, Maria had been detained at 8 Kirov Street, according to the witness. After the journalist clarified that she had been taken to a minibus at a different address, the man changed his testimony.

At 5:40 p.m. the court retired to rule on the case. The case was subsequently returned to the police department for further revision.