Belarus24 November 2006
Oldest independent weekly threatened by closure on 100th anniversary
Reporters Without Borders today condemned the Belarusian government’s repeated attempts to close down the weekly Nasha Niva, one of the country’s few independent newspapers, this time exploiting the fact that it now lacks fixed premises.
A week before the 100th anniversary of its founding yesterday, the newspaper received a warning from the information ministry that the latest issue “does not mention the newspaper’s
current address, which violates article 26 of the media law.”
“The authorities simply want to close the newspaper down,” editor Andrei Dynko said. Reached by Reporters Without Borders, Viktor Guretski, the head of the ministry’s bureau of licences, confirmed that a newspaper that does not identify its legal address in its issues risks being suspended.
Nasha Niva has signed four rental contracts since April in its search for new premises, but each contract has subsequently been cancelled under pressure from the authorities.
“As in the case of Arche, a cultural magazine suspended by the information ministry in September, the authorities often use these practices to neutralise the independent press,” Reporters Without Borders said.
President still hounding dissidents and trying to stifle oldest independent newspaper
The government is targeting Nasha Niva, the country’s oldest independent weekly, which on the eve of its 100th anniversary is in peril of imminent closure, said Reporters Without Borders, condemning President Alexander Lukashenko’s continued hounding of dissidents.
The weekly has been put under threat by a “totally absurd” administrative attack under which it has been denied the right to publish legally, the press freedom organisation said. The government has justified the refusal by the fact that its editor Andrei Dynko was sentenced to ten days in prison on 22 March during a post-electoral crackdown.
In a letter dated 10 April 2006 and signed by the Minsk municipality’s ideological head, the weekly was refused confirmation of the lodging of its legal address in the capital, which is essential for it to be registered with the Information Ministry.
On the same day, after two months of deliberation, the Communications Ministry rejected the newspaper’s request for a licence to sell Nasha Niva through subscription.
“This case is totally absurd. The letter the newspaper received was signed by an ideological official, someone who has no reason to be involved with this type of administrative formality,” the organisation said.
“On top of that, you cannot prevent a newspaper from appearing simply because its editor has been arrested. Administrative force is a Belarusian speciality and other independent newspapers have already suffered from the same procedure. President Lukashenko’s recent election victory, seen by most observers as tainted by irregularities, has been the signal for a witch-hunt against dissident media,” it added.
The editor, Andrei Dynko, told Reporters Without Borders that he saw the attempt to close the paper as political. The decision, which he called a “legal absurdity”, came he said from the ideological head of the presidential administration, Oleg Proleskovsky.
Nasha Niva was founded in Vilnius, Lithuania, in 1906. The weekly, published in the Belarusian language, was designed to protect Belarusian identity from being swamped by Soviet influence, by encouraging people to think, write and read in the language. The weekly has always criticised the government for its dependence on Russia and its policy of destroying national identity. In the run-up to the election it was used as a platform by opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich.
The newspaper has suffered various breaks in contracts during a crackdown against independent media a few months ahead of presidential elections. Since January 2006, the state-controlled post office has removed Nasha Niva from the list of media which it delivers to subscribers, and the Minoblsajuzdruck company, a subsidiary of Belsoyouzdrouk, which has a press distribution monopoly, broke its contract with the newspaper. Since then it has been published by relying on individual donations but sales have fallen sharply to 2,500 copies.
Andrei Dynko said he plans to relocate Nasha Niva to Vilnius if no solution can be found in Belarus. He has also written to international organisations and Lithuanian’s culture ministry urging them to press UNESCO to include Nasha Niva in its list of humanity’s cultural heritage.