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Belarus26 July 2004

Reporters Without Borders condemns closure of Russian public television Rossia’s office for "misreporting"

Reporters Without Borders expressed "outrage" after Belarus authorities announced the closure of the office of Russian public television Rossia in Minsk for broadcasting "biased news" about an opposition demonstration.

The international press freedom organisation urged the authorities to "reconsider this unfair decision", announced on 23 July.

"As President Alexander Lukashenko uses all possible means to stay in power, including a constitutional referendum, this act of censorship illustrates the continuing drift to authoritarianism," said the organisation.

Belarus State television said on its evening news on 23 July that the authorities had announced the shutdown of Rossia’s office because of "deliberate use of false information insulting to Belarus citizens and having a negative impact on the image of the republic of Belarus."

Journalist Dmitri Petrov said on Rossia that 2,000 to 5,000 people had joined an opposition demonstration in Minsk while police estimated attendance of only 193 people. International news agencies spoke of about 4,000 demonstrators.

The 21 July demonstration against President Lukashenko marked the tenth anniversary of his accession to power and came just after he announced a referendum on the question of allowing heads of state a third term in office.

The following day Belarus foreign affairs minister Sergei Martynov ordered Dmitri Petrov and Rossia’s Minsk bureau chief Andrei Kachura to make a public apology.

In 2003, the authorities closed the office of Russian NTV television for reporting deemed "controversial" on the burial of a writer and Lukashenko opponent. Alexander Stupnikov, correspondent for NTV, was expelled in 1997 for a similar reason.

In its 2004 annual report, Reporters Without Borders condemned harassment of the independent press in Belarus. The organisation lists President Alexander Lukashenko as one of 37 "predators of press freedom" worldwide.

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