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Belarus8 June 2004

Government orders opposition newspaper closed for three months

A Belarus government order closing the opposition weekly Rabochaya Solidarnost for three months for allegedly breaking the press law is the latest step in a "campaign of systematic harassment of the independent and opposition press," Reporters Without Borders charged today in a letter to information minister Vladimir Rusakevich.

The minister’s grounds for issuing the closure order on 3 June was the newspaper’s alleged failure to update its registration details with the authorities.

"Once again the authorities have used utterly spurious grounds to silence one of the few news media that dare to criticise President Lukashenko’s regime," Reporters Without Borders said in its letter.

One of Rabochaya Solidarnost’s founding organisations, the Belarus Union of Automobile and Agricultural Tool Workers (UBOAOA), severed its links with the newspaper on 12 March. As a result, the newspaper’s co-founder, the Belarus Labour Party (PBT), was legally required to update the newspaper’s registration in the month that followed. The PBT did indeed file the necessary documents with the Minsk city hall on 19 March. But the authorities responded two months later that the application was still under consideration.

PBT leader Alexandre Bukhvostov, who launched Rabochaya Solidarnost, told Reporters Without Borders that the newspaper was the target of official hostility because it criticised the pro-government Federation of Belarus Trade Unions.

Reporters Without Borders condemns the administrative harassment of the independent press in its 2004 annual report. These papers are seen as too critical of the Lukachenko regime, which the international press freedom organisation lists as one of the 37 "predator of press freedom" worldwide.

During 2003, the authorities suspended and repeatedly sanctioned more than ten newspapers, prevented around 15 independent media from appearing and shut down several human rights organisations that were providing the media with a valuable service.

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