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Belarus29 June 2005

Independent bi-weekly Belorusskaya Delovaya Gazeta financially squeezed

A court in Minsk upheld a sentence against Irina Khalip, editor of independent bi-weekly Belorusskaya Delovaya Gazeta (BDG), and her newspaper of respectively 4,500 dollars and 23,000 dollars in damages on 27 June. Arkady Amar, editor of the New-York based Russkaya Amerika had laid a complaint after the newspaper carried a sarcastic article on 22 February in which Khalip accused the American journalist of intended to extort money from the authorities in Minsk in exchange for a special 12-page issue eulogising President Alexander Lukashenko.

The Supreme Court in Kastrychnitski also confirmed on 27 June a warning from the information ministry to BDG on 13 April for violation of Article 5 of the media law. The bi-weekly carried an article on 3 March about a court case headlined "The virtual war between a granddaughter and her grandmother" without obtaining prior permission from the judge.

The authorities will have the right to close BDG if the newspaper receives a further warning this year.

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Swinging fine threatens to bankrupt an independent bi-weekly

13 April 2005

Reporters Without Borders voiced dismay after a Minsk court imposed a fine of nearly 3,500 euros on Irina Khalip, deputy editor of independent bi-weekly Belorusskaya Delovaya Gazeta (BDG), and a swinging fine against the paper itself of some 17,800 euros in damages for defamation.

Khalip was brought before the district court in Kastrychnitski on 11 April 2005 for defaming a certain Arkady Mar, described as editor of US-based newspaper Russkaya Amerika.

(JPEG) The complainant Mar apparently interviewed President Alexander Lukashenko (picture) on 14 February 2005, promising him around a dozen positive pages about him personally in a forthcoming issue.

On 22 February BDG carried a sarcastic article by-lined Irina Khalip and headlined, "The inhabitants of Oklahoma won’t find out anything about Lukashenko" followed by a letter from a letter from Valery Tarasov, editor of Russkaya Amerika in Oklahoma, stating that no member of staff had interviewed the president of Belarus.

Khalip maintains that the legal case was orchestrated behind the scenes by the chairman of the National Assembly’s permanent committee, Mikhail Charhinets, and deputy director for ideology in the presidential office, Aleh Pralyaskowski.

"These fines inflicted on an editor and her newspaper for comments on a so-called interview with President Lukashenko are utterly disproportionate," said Reporters Without Borders. "Once again the Belarus authorities show they will not tolerate dissident voices in the country by attempting to bankrupt one of the few independent newspapers. The executive should not exploit the Belarus court system. It is a scandalous travesty of justice inconceivable in a democratic country."

According to Khalip, Mar’s aim was to extract money from the Belarus authorities in exchange for a promise of a favourable report on the president in a foreign media at a time when Minsk government is coming under growing criticism from the international community. Khalip said that Lukashenko was the third head of state to be set up in this way.

During the trial, the judge rejected Khalip’s request to question the US ambassador in Belarus about whether Arkady Mar was really the editor of Russkaya Amerika.

Mar, who initially claimed one million dollars in damages after the article appeared, did not deign to attend the trial.

This is not the first time the Belarus authorities had tried to crush BDG: In January 2004, Belpochta, the Belarus postal service that delivers newspapers to subscribers throughout the country, and the state distributor Belsayuzdruk, cancelled their contract with the bi-weekly for 2004, forcing it to be printed abroad. The information minister also suspended publication for three months on 28 May 2003 following legal action for defaming Lukashenko.

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