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Bélarus1 December 2004

Information ministry slaps three-month ban on weekly in double penalty for libel

Reporters Without Borders protested to the information ministry after it slapped a three-month ban on independent weekly Birzha Informatsii, over an article for which its editor and co-founder Elena Rovbetskaya has already been fined.

The worldwide press freedom organisation complained of harassment of the independent press in general and of the weekly in particular and called for the suspension to be lifted, in a letter to the minister, Vladimir Rusakevich.

The paper was suspended for "violating media law" after it carried an article on 9 September headlined "Treason in the name of the people", in which Rovbetskaya said that a referendum on reform of the constitution, allowing President Lukachenko to seek a third term, was a "challenge to society". She added that to call for such a referendum, "one would need not just to have no conscience but a Godlike scorn for plebeians".

Rovbetskaya was sentenced on 30 September by a regional court in Grodno in the west of the country to a fine equivalent to 500 euros, representing six months salary, for "insulting the honour and dignity of the president".

Then on 24 November, the information ministry simultaneously issued a warning to Birzha Informatsii and ordered its suspension, although legally the newspaper should have had a month to appeal against the warning.

Some dozen independent newspapers were suspended on bogus bureaucratic grounds ahead of the October referendum and legislative elections in a wide-ranging crackdown against the media.

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