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Belarus28 September 2005

Minsk court seizes independent weekly’s assets

After rejecting the latest of many of appeals by Narodnaya Volya, the Leninsky district court in Minsk on 20 September seized the weekly’s assets and blocked its bank accounts to enable payment of 38,000 euros in libel damages that it was previously ordered to pay to Syarhey Haidukevich, a parliamentary representative of the Liberal Democratic Party.

Belarus’ main independent newspaper, Narodnaya Volya had also appealed to the supreme court but the district court decided it did not need to wait for its ruling.

Minsk court upholds fines against the Narodnaya Volya newspaper

26 juillet 2005

A court in Minsk on 25 July rejected an appeal by the leading independent newspaper in Belarus against fines imposed by a lower court for defamation. The paper, Narodnaya Volya, had appealed against the amount of the fines imposed by the Leninksy regional court in Minsk on 9 and 14 June 2005 for respectively 4,200 and 47,000 euros. Three residents of Klyotsk, as well as the head of the Liberal Democratic Party Syaredzich Haidukevich, had accused the paper of defaming them. The paper’s editor Yosif Syaredzich said afterwards that he had expected the sentence would be upheld. The paper is now planning to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Weekly Narodnaya Volya faces ruin after a 47,000-dollar fine for defamation

16 juin 2005

Reporters Without Borders reacted with dismay after a judge in Minsk slapped a 47,000-dollar fine on the country’s leading independent newspaper, Narodnaya Volya, tipping it into probable bankruptcy.

Judge Lyubov Valevich, sitting in the regional Leninksy Court, imposed the heavy fine on the paper on 14 June 2005 for defaming the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, Syarhey Haidukevich. Editor Yossif Syaredzich said he would appeal within ten days.

The newspaper was fined for a 1st March 2005 article headlined, "The Haidukevich letter and the fax he was sent", revealing that the Liberal Democratic Party, member of the ruling coalition, was financed by Saddam Hussein’s regime.

The worldwide press freedom organisation said the ruling "confirmed the impossibility in Belarus of publishing any investigation that upset the authorities even if the newspaper has carefully checked its facts."

"We condemn this decision by the courts leading to the financial ruin of a newspaper that is essential to pluralism of information in the country. We urge the government to cancel this swinging fine that threatens the survival of Narodnaya Volya and to stop the repeated sentencing of the few independent newspapers that try to operate in Belarus".

The offending article included a photocopy of a fax dating from 2002 sent by an Iraqi-based company saying that the Liberal Democratic Party leader owed about one million dollars to Iraq’s oil minister.

The article also included an account written by an interpreter working for the Iraqi foreign ministry saying that he had helped Haidukevich, during his negotiations with Saddam Hussein’s government. The article was illustrated by a photo showing Haidukevich with the then Iraqi vice-president with a portrait of Saddam Hussein in the background.

At the trial, former deputy leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, Alexander Rabotai, called by the defence, confirmed that leading officials in the Iraqi oil ministry had asked him, during a stay in Iraq, to remind Haidukevich about his debt to them. He revealed that the party had sold two million barrels of oil in 2001 but had not honoured its agreement with Baghdad to pay 30 cents commission per barrel.

The court took the view that the article damaged the honour and dignity of Haidukevich and decided that the fax the paper had published a copy of on 1st March, was a forgery.

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