Belarus24 March 2005
Authorities prevent reporters from freely covering partial legislative elections
Several journalists with independent news media trying to covering partial legislative elections on 20 March in the western city of Grodno were refused access to polling stations. They included Aliona Andrejeva of the independent weekly Zhoda, who was asked to show a registration certificate although this is not a legal requirement, and Andrei Mialeshka of Express Noviny who was barred by the electoral commission on the grounds that his newspaper "does not exist."
Three Polish journalists who were trying to cover the elections were detained for several hours at the headquarters of the interior affairs department in Grodno. The three - photographer Adam Tuchlinski of Newsweek Poland, Michal Kaczewicz of Newsweek Poland and Marcin Smialowski of the privately-owned TV station Polsat - were finally released at around 11 p.m. and were able to return to Poland with help from diplomats, but without completing their reports.
18 March 2005 Popular Internet forum shut down
Reporters Without Borders condemned a "new press freedom violation" by the government of Belarus after state firm Beltelekom that owns the monopoly Internet access provider Belpak, shut down the Grodnensky Forum (http://forum.grodno.by), because it was seen as too subversive.
The forum that opened in 2000 was set up to accompany an entertainment portal for residents of Grodno, near the Polish border.
It quickly gained popularity from 2002, hosting a number of discussions critical of the policies of President Alexander Lukashenko, becoming even more outspoken in the run-up to 20 March regional elections. It was getting around 2,000 hits a day.
The forum’s administrator, Alexei Rads, who had worked for Beltelekom for the past seven years, was summoned on 10 March by his immediate superior, who complained to him about the political nature of the forum and on 12 March forced him to resign.
"It was not my job to moderate political content, but only to delete obscene, racist or fascist messages," Rad told Reporters Without Borders. "Evidently subjects of discussion like, ’Our president, who is he?’ ’Europe and Belarus’, ’What propaganda is really’ and ’the iron curtain’, did bother the authorities.
"The Belarus government is determined to silence any dissident voices by the crude use of censorship" the worldwide press freedom organisation said.
"At a time when there a fewer and fewer independent newspapers and television stations are completely under state control, it is worrying to see that the crackdown is also extending to the Internet, thus removing all chance of pluralism of information in the country," the organisation added.
The former administrator of Grodnensky Forum on 16 March opened a new similar forum (http://forum.grodno.net) which is already getting more than 1,000 hits a day.