Belarus28 December 2005
Law to punish “discrediting Belarus” becomes law on 30 December
Reporters Without Borders condemned a new law due to come into effect on 30 December 2005 that will punish “discrediting Belarus abroad”, three months before the presidential elections on 19 March 2006.
President Alexander Lukashenko put his signature to the new amendments on 15 December, a week after the law was passed by parliament’s upper house. Members of the lower house of parliament unanimously voted for the new law on 2 December.
Journalists, as well as candidates for the presidential elections, come under the reach of the new law.
Parliament brought forward the date of presidential elections, originally scheduled for July 2006.
6 December 2005
Threat of prison against journalists who discredit the government
read in russian
Reporters Without Borders expressed concern after parliament adopted a new law on 2 December imposing heavy prison sentences of up to three years on any citizen discrediting Belarus abroad.
Head of the Belarus KGB, Stepan Sukhorenko, confirmed that the law would also apply to Belarus journalists working for international media or organisations as well as to foreign journalists.
“The adoption of these new amendments deals a deadly blow to a press that is already suffering severe tyranny. The vague wording of this law makes any critical action illegal and liable to disproportionate sentences,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said.
“The Minsk authorities are prepared to do anything to gag the slightest dissident voice, whether it comes from Belarus citizens or local and foreign journalists.
“The press will be well and truly gagged and this blow will leave the field clear for the government press, with just a few months to go before presidential elections,” said Reporters Without Borders.
Members of the lower house of parliament voted for the law at its first reading on 25 November, by 94 to 1. They officially approved it at the second reading, on 2 December, by 97 votes to 4.
Stepan Sukhorenko specified after the vote that foreign journalists who attempted to infringe the law would immediately be deported to their own countries and told Belarus journalists to observe the new amendments, advising them to “read the law and reflect on it”.
The law lays down, among other things, that anyone joining an unregistered or banned political party will be liable to up to two years in prison and people gathering to “take part in street demonstrations”, up to three years.
Supplying a foreign state or international organisations with “false information on the country’s political, economic, social or military situation” or “urging a state or organisation to act to the detriment of the authorities” would be liable for up to three years in prison.
Independent Belarus analyst, Sergey Balykin, pointed out that the new amendments bore a striking resemblance to “Article 67 of the criminal code of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Byelorussia of 1961” entitled “Anti-Soviet campaigns and propaganda”. Violation of this law put the offender at risk of a sentence from six months to seven years in prison for “defaming the Soviet system”.
Stepan Sukhorenko said however that he considered this law vital to avert popular uprisings and to prevent “destructive forces” from using the presidential campaign “to take power and change the constitutional regime”, as happened in Georgia (2003), in Ukraine (2004) and in Kyrgyzstan (2005).
The upper chamber of parliament will vote on the law on 8 December. One approved, it could quickly come into force after being signed by President Alexander Lukashenko.