Belarus

 CountryType of Law 
 
 

Criminal Defamation

The Code of Administrative Offences of the Republic of Belarus provides for two misdemeanours of defamation: libel (Art. 9.2) and insult (Art. 9.3). Additionally, the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus provides for two offences of defamation: libel (Art. 188) and insult (Art. 189).

Libel is defined as “disseminating false defamatory information about a person” (Art. 9.2 of the Code on Administrative Offences, Art. 188 of the Criminal Code).

Under Art. 9.2 of the Code of Administrative Offences, libel is punished by a fine of up to 30 base units. To be punished under the Criminal Code crime of libel must be committed for a second or more time within one year after the imposition of administrative penalties for libel or insult.

The penalty for libel under the Criminal Code is public works, fine, correctional labour for up to one year, arrest or imprisonment up to two years.

In the case of libel through public speech or through the media or other publication including on the web as well as libel joined with the accusation of committing grave or especially grave crimes, the penalty is a fine, correctional labour for up to two years, arrest or imprisonment for up to three years.

Insult is defined as “deliberately humiliating a person`s honour and dignity in an abusive manner” (Art. 9.3 of the Code of Administrative Offences, Art. 189 of the Criminal Code). The essential feature of insult is the humiliation of the offended person in an abusive manner. Normally this occurs through expressions that are not related to that person specifically, but that rather would be insulting to anyone (e.g. labels, curse words).

Under Art. 9.3 of the Code of Administrative Offences, the penalty for insult is a fine of up to 20 base amounts. To be punished under the Criminal Code, the crime of insult should be committed a second or more time within one year after the imposition of administrative penalties for libel or insult. The penalty for insult under the Criminal Code is public works, a fine, correctional labour for up to one year or by imprisonment for up to two years.

In the case of insult through public speech or through the media or other publication, the penalty is a fine, correctional labour for up to two years, arrest or imprisonment for up to three years.

Criminal Defamation of Public Officials

Art. 23.5 of the Code of Administrative Offences punishes insult of a public official in the exercise of official authority by a person not subordinated to him/her with a fine ranging from twenty to fifty base units.

Under Art. 369 of the Criminal Code (“Insult of a public agent”), public insult of a public agent in connection with the exercise of official duties shall be punished by public works, a fine, correctional labour for up to two years, arrest or imprisonment for up to three years.

Art. 391 of the Criminal Code sets forth criminal liability for insult of a judge or a people`s assessor in connection with executing justice by them. The penalty is a fine, correctional labour for up to two years, arrest or imprisonment for up to three years.

Criminal Defamation of the Head of State

Art. 23.33 of the Code of Administrative Offences provides that disseminating through the media false information humiliating the honour and dignity of the president of the Republic of Belarus is punishable by a fine. The fine ranges from 20 to 50 base units for an individual and to 500 hundred base units for a legal entity.

Under Art. 367 of Criminal Code, libel in relation to the president of Belarus through public speech or through the media or other publication including on the web is punishable by fine, correctional labour for up to two years, restriction of liberty for up to four years or imprisonment for the same term. If the offence is committed by a person previously convicted of libel or insult, or if the offence is joined with the accusation of committing grave or especially grave crimes, the penalty is restriction of liberty for up to five years or by imprisonment for the same term.

Under Art. 368 of the Criminal Code, public insult of the president of Belarus is punishable by fine, correctional labour for up to two years, arrest, restriction of liberty for up to two years, or by imprisonment for the same term. If the offence is committed by a person previously convicted of libel or insult, or if the offence is joined with the accusation of committing grave or especially grave crimes, the penalty is a fine, correctional labour for up to two years, restriction of liberty for up to three years or by imprisonment for the same term.

Criminal Defamation of the State and its Symbols

Discredit to the Republic of Belarus: Criminal Code Art. 369 states that “providing to a foreign state, a foreign or international organisation false information about political, economic, social, military or international situation of the Republic of Belarus, legal status of citizens of the Republic of Belarus discrediting the Republic of Belarus or its authorities (discrediting the Republic of Belarus)” shall be punished by arrest or imprisonment for a term of up to two years. It should be noted that this article has never been applied by courts.

There are no provisions penalising defamation of state symbols. But in practice defamation of state symbols can be punished under Art. 17.1 (“Disorderly conduct”) of the Code of Administrative Offences.

Criminal Defamation of Foreign Heads of State

No provisions.

Criminal Defamation of Foreign States and Symbols

No provisions.

Criminal Defamation of the Deceased

No provisions.

Criminal Blasphemy

No provisions.

Criminal Statistics

N/A

Criminal Law and Media

Selected cases

The provision relating to defamation of the head of state is applied frequently in Belarus.

In 2002, Mikola Markevich, editor-in-chief of Pahonya weekly, and Pavel Mazheiko, a journalist for the same newspaper, were convicted of libelling president Alexander Lukashenko under Art. 367 of the Criminal Code for an article published in the run-up to the presidential elections calling on voters not to support Lukashenko . The 11,000 issues of the newspaper were seized in the printing house before they could be distributed. Markevich and Mazheiko were sentenced to two-and-a-half years and two years, respectively, of restriction of liberty. The sentences were later cut on appeal to one year for each journalist.

In 2011, journalist Andrzej Poczobut, correspondent for the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, was charged under two articles of the Criminal Code: Art. 368 “Insult of the president of the Republic of Belarus” and Art. 367 “Libel in relation to the President of the Republic of Belarus”. The criminal case was based on articles by the journalist published by the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, on the web site Belorusskij Partizan and on journalist’s blog in LiveJournal in 2010 and 2011. Andrzej Poczobut was found guilty of libelling the president and given a three-year suspended prison sentence .

Recent Legal Changes

The Law of the Republic of Belarus of 4 January 2014 amended Art. 9.2 (“Libel”) and Art. 9.3 (“Insult”) of the Code of Administrative Offences. It abolished the minimum rate of penalty for libel (10 base units) and insult (four base units).

The Law of the Republic of Belarus of 5 January 2015 amended Art. 188 (“Libel”) and Art. 367 (“Libel in relation to the president of the Republic of Belarus”) of the Criminal Code to include references to information published on the web.

Notes and Acknowledgements

Information for Belarus was originally collected by IPI as part of a study commissioned by the Office of the Representative on Freedom of the Media of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). It is reprinted here with the permission of the OSCE. Last update: March 2017.

The information contained in this database is for informational and advocacy purposes only. If you are a journalist facing a defamation claim, you should seek legal advice from a qualified attorney. However, if you are unable to find such an attorney, IPI may be able to assist you in doing so. Please contact us at info(at)ipi.media.

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