Belarus5 December 2005
Yet more broken contracts for the Belarus independent press
The state post office on 1st December 2005, took two more independent newspapers off the list of media it delivers to subscribers.
The targets this time were Tovarisch, a weekly run by the Belarus Communist Party and an independent daily, Brestskiï Kurier.
Newspapers currently victims of broken contracts with the state post office and the press distribution company are:
Solidarnost, Narodnaya Volya, BG Delovaya Gazeta, Zhoda, Regionalnaya Gazeta, Nasha Niva, Vitebskiy Kurier, Brestskiy Kurier, Intex-Press, Gazeta Slonimskaya, Borisovski Novosti, Dlya Vas, Volnaye Hlybokaye et Myastsoviy Chas.
Newspapers whose contracts were unilaterally broken off by the state-run printers are: Solidarnost, Narodnaya Volya, BG Delovaya Gazeta, and Tovarisch. These publications are now printed in Smolensk, Russia.
1st December 2005
Distribution of independent weekly Solidarnost cut off
The independent weekly paper Solidarnost lost its distribution network on 29 November when Minoblsajuzdruck, the Minsk subsidiary of the national press handling firm Belsayuzdruk, cancelled in writing a contract it had signed two months earlier with the paper for all of next year. No reason was given. Three weeks ago the state post office cancelled a contract for mailing copies to subscribers.
The paper has been forced to print outside the country, in Smolensk (Russia), since the state printing firm Krasnaya Zvezda refused to renew its contract. Solidarnost and the country’s only opposition daily, Narodnaya Volya, no longer have a legal way to distribute in Belarus.
“It’s now impossible to print and circulate independent papers,” Solidarnost editor Aleksandr Starikevich told Reporters Without Borders. “What kind of media can survive in this country?”
Only the weeklies Belorusy i Rynok and Belgazeta have so far escaped the repeated attacks on the independent press and continue to be sold on the streets and sent through the post.
17 November 2005
State postal service refuses to distribute seven more newspapers
Reporters Without Borders today condemned a decision by the state postal service, Belposhta, to stop delivering seven independent newspapers to subscribers on 1 January. Earlier this month, Belposhta had announced its intention to terminate its contracts with three other privately-owned publications at the start of next year.
The seven latest newspapers to be affected are the weeklies Nasha Niva, Gazeta Slonimskaya, Volnaye Hlybokaye, Bretski Kuryer, IntexPress and Regionalnaya Gazeta, and the biweekly Vitebski Kuryer.
In an interview for Radio Free Europe, Nasha Niva editor Andrey Dynko described the postal service’s refusal to continue delivering the newspapers as a crime against Belarusian culture and as yet further evidence that the conditions do not exist for free elections to be held.
10 November 2005
State post office breaks contracts with three independent newspapers
State Post Office, Belposhta, which holds a monopoly in Belarus in distribution of the subscription press, on 9 November informed three independent newspapers that it was terminating their contracts at the end of January 2006.
Those affected were the country’s leading independent daily Narodnaya Volya, as well as two independent weeklies Solidarnost and Zhoda.
The decision comes one month after state printers Krasnaya Zvezda unilaterally and without explanation broke their contracts with Narodnaya Volya and Solidarnost. The company Belsajuzdruck, which hold a distribution monopoly in Belarus, unilaterally broke his contract with Narodnaya Volya.
Since then, the two newspapers have been forced to go to Smolensk in Russia to get printed. Half the 30,000 print run of Narodnaya Volya was distributed by Belposhta, and the rest by volunteers. Because of the distance between Smolensk and Belarus the daily has been reduced to publishing three times a week.
Deputy editor of Narodnaya Volya, Svyatlana Kalinkina, is pessimistic about the newspaper’s future, which could be forced into closure through lack of sales.
In an interview with the Belarus Association of Journalists (BAJ), the editor of Zhoda, Alyaksei Karol, expressed his fear that Belarus opposition newspapers would be driven into working underground as they did before the 1917 revolution and under the Soviet regime.
3 October 2005
The independent press under threat of programmed destruction
Reporters Without Borders called on President Alexander Lukachenko to stop the systematic hounding of the independent press as simultaneous attacks on the country’s two leading independent newspapers, demonstrated the authorities’ resolve to silence critical voices.
The authorities have pulled the plug on printing and distribution of the sole opposition daily, Narodnaya Volya, while BDG. Delovaya Gazeta has been hammered by harsh fines.
“We call on President Alexander Lukachenko to put an end to this policy of systematic harassment of the handful of media that try to provide the people of Belarus with news other than the official version,” said the worldwide press freedom organisation.
Narodnaya Volya - circulation 29,000 - which had already had its accounts frozen by the authorities on 20 September 2005, was refused printing and distribution by the authorities on 1st October. State printers Krasnaya Zvezda and the company Minoblsayuzdruk, which has a distribution monopoly in Belarus, both broke their contracts without explanation.
On 3 October the management of Narodnaya Volya nevertheless managed to strike an agreement with printers in Smolensk, Russia and the daily will in future appear as a tri-weekly. “The escalation of deliberate obstruction to the independent press proves that the authorities have decided to close all alternative media between now and the 2006 presidential elections”, the paper’s editor Yosif Seredich told Reporters Without Borders.
The newspaper had just managed, with the support of its readership, to find the money needed to pay a 38,000-euro fine imposed for “defamation” and upheld by the Minsk court on 20 September 2005. The daily was also hit with a fine of 47,000 euros for “defamation” on 25 July.
Elsewhere, the Kastrychinski court in Minsk on 30 September sentenced the BDG Delovaya Gazeta and its reporter Syarhey Satsuk to respectively 19,000 euros and 2,000 euros fines for having “defamed” a former police officer. The newspaper will also have to publish an apology.
It related to the publication of an article on 20 May 2003, headlined “Advertising Campaign”, about a judicial investigation into shady dealings on the part of two former police officers. One of them, Syarhey Byadrytski, brought a complaint against BDG in June this year.
The Belarus Association of Journalists (BAJ), partner organisation of Reporters Without Borders and laureate of the 2004 Sakharov Prize, condemned the fine as “totally disproportionate|” and “a threat to the weekly’s future.”