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Belarus25 August 2004

Reporters Without Borders condemns new attacks against the independent press ahead of elections

Reporters Without Borders has protested after the information minister ordered a three-month closure of the independent weekly Novaya Gazeta Smorgoni in Smorgon, western Belarus.

Moreover in the run-up to legislative elections several large stores in Minsk have been refusing to sell the independent press since the beginning of the week.

"It is unacceptable for the independent media to be silenced on the eve of elections that are of major importance to the country" said Reporters Without Borders in a letter to information minister, Vladimir Rusakevich.

"Everything points to the fact that Novaya Gazeta Smorgoni is a victim of official abuse. We call on you to reconsider your decision to suspend this newspaper and to abstain from similar steps against other media throughout the pre-election period," the international press freedom organisation added.

The information minister, who suspended the paper on 16 August, has accused the founder of de Novaya Gazeta Smorgoni, Ramuald Ulan of failing to comply with registration procedure.

Ulan, as well as several other independent specialists, has contested the legal basis for the ruling. They have pointed up contradictions in the media law in connection with the possibility of being both sole proprietor and editor of a newspaper.

Novaya Gazeta Smorgoni has come under official pressure for several years. In the run-up to the local elections in 2003, the Grodno regional commercial court decided to suspend Ulan’s trading licence, thus closing the newspaper.

The weekly has been carrying regular news about independent candidates for the Smorgon region ahead of the October 2004 legislative elections.

Elsewhere, the three major independent newspapers such as Belorussky Rynok, Belorusskaya Delovaya Gazeta (BDG), Belorusskaya Gazeta and Narodnaya Volya, said on 23 August that seven major stores in Minsk have stopped selling their papers without any advance notice.

Viktor Bondarenko, editor of Belorusskaya Gazeta, and his BDG colleagues, quoted by the Belarus Association of Journalists (BAJ), said the local authorities had apparently "recommended" to the owners of the major stores that they should not sell the newspapers in the pre-election period. According to BDG, advertisers had reportedly come under similar pressure.




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