The government keeps a tight grip on the state media in this former Soviet republic shunned by the international community and persecutes the few independent outlets that fight to survive.
Seventeen journalists from the country’s Polish minority were arrested over three months in 2005 and two of them were given jail sentences for “taking part in an illegal demonstration” while covering a protest by small business owners for an opposition website.
The regime is increasing its pressure on the independent media as the July 2006 presidential election approaches.
The only independent daily, Narodnaya Volya, already crippled by fines from losing libel suits, had its accounts frozen on 20 September. Minsk city authorities seized all copies of the weekly Den in August and then forced it to close by striking its publishers, Denpress, off the official register of publications. The country’s main independent paper, the twice-weekly BG Delovaya Gazeta, was being financially strangled with enormous fines imposed in libel cases.
With all opposition papers now forced to print in neighbouring Russia, the monopoly state post office, Belposhta, said it would stop handling subscriber copies of a dozen independent papers from 1 January 2006, ensuring their probable closure.
Vassili Grodnikov, of Narodnaya Volya, was found dead in his apartment in a Minsk suburb on 18 October with mysterious head injuries. He had been investigating gangs involved in swindling elderly apartment tenants.
Official investigators into the death of journalist Veronika Cherkasova, of the weekly Solidarnost, at her home on 20 October 2004, still insisted it was probably a love or family murder, even though just before she was killed, she was investigating arms sales by Belarusian officials to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein when he was in power.
The enquiry into the July 2000 disappearance of cameraman Dmitri Zavadski, of the Russian TV station ORT, possibly involving top government officials, is still making no progress.