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Belarus2 June 2004

Supreme court ruling threatens survival of newspaper

Reporters Without Borders voiced concern today that the newspaper Narodnaya Volya might have to close after a Belarus supreme court panel confirmed a 50 million ruble (20,000 euros) damages award against it for libelling former state TV chief Yahor Rybakov.

It urged the court’s presidium to review the 31 May decision to ensure the damages were proportional to the offence so the paper did not have to close, which it said would "greatly worsen the difficult press freedom situation" in the country.

Damages against journalists Marina Koktysh, of Narodnaya Volya, and Eleonora Yazerskaya, a former state TV presenter, were reduced by the panel to 1 million rubles (400 euros) each, but the award against the paper itself was maintained. Editor Iosif Seredich said the amount would "inevitably" force the paper to close.

A Minsk court imposed the damages on 17 November last year for an October 2001 interview in the paper with Yazerskaya in which she said Rybakov was a bad manager.

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