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Belarus23 March 2005

Pressbol editor’s personal possessions seized

A court officer on 11 March ordered the seizure of Pressbol editor Vladimir Berechkov’s assets to cover the fine imposed on 10 February by the Minsk municipal court for "moral harm" allegedly caused to Belarusian finance minister Nikolai Korbut. The assets seized included a wardrobe, a vacuum cleaner, an electric kettle and a washing machine. Berechkov’s wife filed a request with the court on 14 March for her own personal effects to be excluded from the assets confiscated.

18 February 2005 Authorities accused of hypocrisy in moves to ruin and close newspaper

Reporters Without Borders today condemned the use of "spurious pretexts" by the Belarusian authorities with the aim of closing down one of the few independent newspapers that still exist in the country, Pressbol, a national daily with a circulation of 25,000.

The supreme court on 16 February upheld a second information ministry warning to the newspaper that would allow the authorities to order its closure within three months. Six days earlier, on 10 February, the Minsk municipal court confirmed that Pressbol must pay 16,000 euros in libel damages to finance minister Nikolai Korbut.

So Pressbol is already ruined by the damages award even if the authorities have not already closed it, the press freedom group said.

"The use of spurious pretexts allows the authorities to progressively reduce the space for expressing views that do not conform with the thinking of President Alexander Lukashenko," Reporters Without Borders said. "It would better if Lukashenko respected press freedom in Belarus instead of accusing the international press, both western and Russian, of waging a campaign against him."

It was the Minsk "central" court which on 4 January ordered Pressbol to pay Korbut 16,000 euros in damages as a result of the libel action he brought over an October 2004 article headlined "Belarusian finance minister’s deputy wanted by Interpol and implicated in organizing a criminal gang," which said he had links with shady Russian businessman Andrei Imanali.

Pressbol received the information ministry’s second warning on 5 January. It accused the newspaper of failing to obtain a necessary prior permission from the judge before publishing a statement by Korbut in its 21 December issue in which he explained his reasons for suing Pressbol.

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