Katerina Borisevich, a TUT.BY journalist facing criminal charges

Katerina Borisevich, a TUT.BY journalist facing criminal charges

"Do you think this will not affect us? No, it will affect everyone!"

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Katerina Borisevich, a TUT.BY journalist, was found guilty by the court in a criminal case. She served 6 months in prison. Her story is told by her friends and colleagues.

After the death of Minsk resident Roman Bondarenko [November 12, 2020], TUT.BY published a note, which refuted the official version of the authorities about Bondarenko’s alcoholic intoxication on the evening of the attack on him. The author of the piece was Katerina Borisevich. On November 19, 2020 the General Prosecutor’s Office opened a criminal case about “disclosing medical secrets» and “providing false information» on the death of Bondarenko. On the evening of the same day, a search was carried out in Katerina’s apartment, and the journalist was detained and taken away in an unknown direction. Later it turned out that she was in the KGB detention center.

Then Katerina was transferred to the Detention Centre No. 1 in Valadarskaha St. in Minsk. 19 February 2021, the court started consideration of the case. On March 2, the court’s decision was announced: six month in a low security prison and a fine of 100 base units (2,900 Belarusian Roubles). However, the General Prosecution Office submitted an appeal saying the verdict was «too mild». Belarusian human rights defenders recognized Katerina Borisevich as a political prisoner. Amnesty International named her a prisoner of conscience.

Ulyana Boboed, editor of TUT.BY: «We have a saying: ‘If planes fall from the sky, journalists are to blame'»

Katerina Borisevich is a court correspondent and usually deals with high-profile criminal cases. She often has to communicate with relatives of victims, victims, or with people who find themselves in a difficult situation. Katerina is a very experienced journalist. She is always restrained, correct. She knows Belarusian laws well. She is always very careful in her statements. She knows where and what the pitfalls may be.

The topic of Roman Bondarenko was also dealt with by Katerina Borisevich. At first she wrote about what happened before he died — Roman was admitted to the hospital in serious condition. She also wrote about his death. She contacted relatives, with witnesses of what happened in the “Change Courtyard” [an informal memorial to Bondarenko].

A day after Roman Bondarenko died, the Investigative Committee disseminated information that during an initial autopsy he was diagnosed with alcohol intoxication. And we published a piece on this. The note was with a special message from the Investigative Committee.

After the piece was published not only on TUT.BY, but also in other Belarusian media, medical documents appeared in Telegram channels, which said that Roman Bondarenko was not drunk, that his blood tests did not show the presence of ethanol. And Katerina was tasked with checking where this information came from and why it did not correspond to the reports of the Investigative Committee.

Ulyana Boboed. Personal photo

I want to emphasize that the Investigative Committee mentioned the initial examination, and in the Telegram channels there were documents, too, for the initial examination of Roman Bondarenko. Indeed, there was a question of intoxication. Katerina contacted the emergency hospital doctor and asked him to comment on these documents. The doctor explained that during the initial examination, the diagnosis of “alcohol intoxication in question” is a normal practice. The patient was admitted with vomit, and in this case, during the initial examination, when the tests have not yet been carried out, they really leave alcohol intoxication as an open question. But he also spoke about the results of the tests themselves, according to which ethanol was not detected in the blood of Roman Bondarenko.

Katerina rechecked the documents that appeared on the telegram channels and received a doctor’s comment. She did usual journalistic work — she checked information, explained why the Investigative Committee gave such information, and why there were discrepancies. Every journalist does this every day — they check information, get data.

On the same day in the evening, a quote from Alexander Lukashenko appeared, who, referring to the Investigative Committee, said that Roman Bondarenko was drunk. It was no longer a question of the initial examination. It sounded as if it were now the final test results.

Katerina continued to work on the story of Roman Bondarenko.

A week later, on November 19, contact with her was lost. At about 4:30 pm we called her daughter. She said that her mom had gone out to the store for 10 minutes.

Katerina returned from the store surrounded by people in balaclavas, as witnesses told us later.

They searched Katerina’s apartment and took her away. During the search, her phone and laptop were taken away. As we know, Katerina was not even allowed to talk to her daughter. She was not even allowed to change clothes. They took her to the KGB detention center. Later she was transferred to detention center No. 1 on Volodarskiy Street. This detention center does not have a very good reputation in terms of the conditions in which detainees are held. The conditions there are quite tough, the sanitary and hygienic standards are not observed. People are rarely taken to showers, for example.

Unfortunately, we do not have any details about Katerina’s case — her lawyer signed a nondisclosure agreement. It is not entirely clear how a journalist who performed an assignment and called for a comment could end up in a detention center. We can only be guided by the statement made by the General Prosecutor’s Office. She spoke about article 178 of the Criminal Code — the disclosure of medical secrets.

There is such a detail that in fact only the person who has official access to it can reveal a medical secret. This may be a medical or pharmaceutical worker to whom of the matter has been disclosed. A journalist however does not have direct access to medical records. So accordingly, he cannot reveal a medical secret. Our assumption Katerina either has been accused or will be accused of complicity in a crime. Probably as the person who incited it.

If the normal work of a journalist is considered incitement, then I do not know how to work further. Probably not. Roughly speaking, if I ask someone a question at a press conference, is it incitement to a crime? This is a serious precedent that threatens all journalistic work in Belarus.

If I ask someone a question at a press conference, is it incitement to a crime? This is a serious precedent that threatens all journalistic work in Belarus

The piquancy of the situation is that Katerina has always cooperated in her work with law enforcement agencies, with investigators, even with the Prosecutor General’s Office, which now accuses her of a criminal offense. Katerina is very well known in these bureaucratic structures. She helped many, did interviews with “top officials” and with the leaders of these structures.

Unfortunately, none of us are sure right now that we are safe. Once in the editorial office we joked about this topic. Once Katerina asked to transfer [books by dissident Soviet author Sergei] Dovlatov to her in the detention center in case something happened. We cannot handover books directly, so I began to transcribe [Dovlatov’s] “Compromise” by hand. I’m not sure the letter even reached her …

Often, Katerina’s articles changed people’s lives for the better. For example, on the website of the Ministry of Internal Affairs there is a list of people who are considered missing. Once Katerina wrote a piece about missing children. A girl from Russia read Katerina’s text and recognized herself in one of the photos. As a child, she somehow ended up in Russia, and there she was adopted. Thanks to Katerina, after many years she found her parents in Belarus.

I also remember how Katerina found out about an orphan teen who had had a stroke. The doctors were able to help him, and he was recovering at that moment. But he did not have any relatives. Katerina organized help for him, organized people who helped him — with rehabilitation, and financially. She did not write anything on this topic. She did it after hours simply because the story attracted her.

We do not influence events, but write about them. Accusing journalists of spreading false information is nonsense.

It is difficult to say why they decided to react this way to Katerina’s publication. Perhaps because the text did not correspond to the official point of view. In general, it is very strange that journalists are made guilty. We have a saying: “If planes fall from the sky, journalists are to blame.” But in fact, we can only reflect what is happening. We do not influence events, but write about them. Accusing journalists of spreading false information is nonsense. I don’t think that such things have ever happened in Belarus! So for completing an editorial assignment, a person is kept in a detention center, in terrible conditions. A person who alone is raising a child. I imagine that Katerina is very worried about her daughter now! Much more than myself.

From left to right: Ulyana Boboed, Katerina Panteleyeva, Adarya Gushtyn, Katerina Borisevich. Photo provided by Ulyana Boboed

Adarya Gushtyn, journalist of TUT.BY: «Katerina has awards from the Investigative Committee, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the Prosecutor General’s Office»

I have known Katerina for over 10 years. We met in court because Katerina and I worked as court reporters. At that time, I worked for another publication while Katerina was a journalist for the Belarusian “Komsomolskaya Pravda”. Katerina is a great professional. I can even say that when I went to court and saw Katerina there, I always understood that I needed to work very quickly, because Katerina was a very serious competitor.

I was always amazed how she quietly writes something in her notebook, then types on the phone, and it all turns out to be a large text with very precise wording.

Adarya Gushtyn. Personal photo

In general, I do not know of a single case when Katerina made some kind of “mistake”. Although, “mistakes» — they are normal, because we are also real people, it happens to everyone. But while working at TUT.BY, we were sitting at neighboring tables, and I do not remember a single case when Katerina wrote something and then someone called from somewhere and said that she did something wrong.

Katerina is a very detail-conscious person. She pays close attention to words. She is also very stress-resistant. This fact is very important, especially in our kind of work. When you are a court reporter, you need to understand that we work 70-80 percent with a negative agenda. And you need to be able to control yourself, so as not to take the side of the hero of the publication, but always to present the material carefully, and reflect different points of view. Katerina always did this well.

Katerina has awards from law enforcement agencies — the Investigative Committee, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the General Prosecutor’s Office, the Ministry of Emergency Situations, and from the notary. She has diplomas and certificates for her articles. For the fact that she contributed to the “Education of Citizens on Legal Matters.» Now of course it looks ironic.

At one time, the General Prosecutor’s Office highly rated her contribution to this important work. But today we are faced with the fact that the General Prosecutor’s Office, as we learned from the STV story, is investigating a criminal case against Katerina.

Tatiana Shakhnovich, friend of Katerina Borisevich, journalist: “Katerina is still there. She is here, with us, in the center of Minsk!”

Surprisingly, Katerina and I seemed to feel something!

The whole day before she was taken away, Katerina spent in the cold courthouse — she was waiting for a hearing about her colleague Sasha Kvitkevich.

And suddenly I really wanted to see her, although before that we hadn’t met for many days — we talked only by phone and by instant messenger. In the afternoon, I came to Katerina and brought her a cappuccino and some french fries. We chatted and then went our separate ways. And in the evening, I realized that I really wanted to see Katerina again. It was on the same day. The second time in a day.

I call her and say: “At 6 pm I will pick you up and we are going to drink champagne.”

It’s dark outside, there are cars. Dark cars, but the lights are on inside and people are sitting in black. We looked at each other and she said to me: “How good it is that you came! Because it seems to me that they will take me away now!” And I answer: “Oh my God! Let’s get away from here quickly!”

And we left. And when we walked from the car, we discussed all this horror happening all around. I tried to be cheerful, to be an optimist. And Katerina asks: “Do you think all this will not affect us?” I say: “Of course, of course it won’t!” And she replies: “No! It will affect everyone.”

We discussed how good it is that our children have already grown up: “Imagine if they were small, and there were such risks!”

We ate olives, Italian dried tomatoes, and chatted about everything. We chatted excitedly, could not stop talking! It was a moment as if like in parting, as if we felt that this was our last conversation…

And the next day Katerina was detained.

I recently received a letter from her. She writes: “Kitty, as I remember our last meeting, I laugh uncontrollably. How we managed to do everything just in time!”.

We made it, and that’s great.

Tatiana Shakhnovich. Personal photo

Katerina also wrote about delicious sun-dried tomatoes that I bought her at Komarovka and handed over to her in prison. She recalls Italy, where these tomatoes are dried. “They are so sweet and sour! Very tasty with coffee.” I read this and am glad that she has coffee, and these tomatoes, which remind her of her beloved Italy.

In an envelope with a letter for Katerina, I enclosed a map of the Italian city of Bergamo for her to enjoy. She has the time! But they wrote me that a map is a prohibited enclosure, and they returned the letter. But that’s okay! We will definitely explore this map together soon. We were going to wave together to Italy! We will be walking in beautiful dresses, drinking delicious coffee, eating croissants for breakfast.

Katerina likes to post a croissant in a photo on social networks. We made fun of her that it was her one and only duty photo. Because Katerina doesn’t eat bread, while a croissant is a symbol of something beautiful.

Katerina is very strong, she is great. On the one hand, she is a girl, and on the other hand, she is an absolute fighter, with a core that you want to be equal to, which you really want to have around, as support, as something close to you, and dear.

On the one hand, she is a girl, and on the other hand, she is an absolute fighter, with a core that you want to be equal to.

She knows how to rely on inner emotions for moments of happiness: beautiful dresses, delightful walks, fragrant and bright flowers. Even in the circumstances in which she is now.

It took us so long to put together a parcel for Katerina. It seemed that it had to gather everything, everything, everything. We took into account all the little things! And then I realized: “God! We forgot the face cream! The most important thing for a girl!” She wrote that she wants to be beautiful there too. No worries, we’ll pass some on. Or maybe, I hope, I won’t have to transfer anything. She will be out soon and can choose her own cream. The kind she likes.

Katerina has a 17-year-old daughter, Daria. They are absolute girlfriends. Katerina never stopped talking about Daria whenever we met. Of course, 17-year-old girlfriends, they are … they don’t always like tenderness. But we like to cuddle, and hug, and say «I love» a million times.

I know that Katerina wrote to Daria in a letter: “Kitty, at last I can speak unrestrainedly about love, write about love and will not hear in response: ‘Mom, no need right now!’ That is why I will say and write that I love you very, very much, and know that this is very much — it is not just ‘love’. Now you can multiply it by a thousand!”

And I know that Daria already perceives these words differently now. Of course, it’s an incredible happiness to know that you have such a mom. They were together all the time — both in Minsk and in Italy. As two friends who walked the streets, enjoyed the views and planned new trips.

Daria, it seems to me, is stronger than all of us. She is the only one who watched how her mother was detained and the arrest protocol was drawn up, and how these people communicate and what they say. Of course, it was very difficult for her emotionally. But she pulled herself together very quickly and said: “So! I’m strong. I know Mom would not want to see me upset and I will not be upset! I know that mom is smart, she is utterly honest. She is a great professional. Everything will be fine! And so, for myself, for all of us, for my Mom, I will be strong and I will not give in to weakness. Everything will be fine! Everything will be all right very soon. Because we know that truth is on our side!”

It was Katerina who taught me how to wear beautiful dresses, criticizing my permanent jeans. She showed me where the most delicious coffee was sold in Minsk. We bought flowers together at Komarovka — Katerina could spend hours choosing the most beautiful bouquet. And then we would walk 10-15 kilometers, right with these flowers, chatting about everything in the world and laughing. Any problem turned into a wonderful adventure with Katerina!

Every morning Katerina and I sent each other emoticons — hugs, hearts, hippos… Now I am sending these emoticons to her daughter Daria, because she is part of Katerina. And, of course, Katerina herself. Only mentally.

Katerina is very honest and very professional. She is a great friend. We are proud of her. I was always proud of her. And now I am proud that I have such a friend and such a wonderful person by my side. Because she’s there anyway. She is here with us, in the center of Minsk. And we, too, are with her, all of us.

I know if such a situation happened to me, she would also walk around Volodarka, look into the windows, come every day to the Central Post Office in the hope that letters from there would reach me faster. Often letters are returned, but we still write. We love her so much because she is so cool.

Now, like many others, I have just crazy feelings about everything that is happening to us.


18 лістапада 2020 года

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Press Club BelarusPress under pressureKaterina Borisevich, a TUT.BY journalist facing criminal charges

Repressions against journalists in Belarus 2020–2022

Beatings, injuries, detentions. Searches, arrests, court hearings, prisons. Website blocks, refusal to print and distribute, revocation of credentials…

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