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Belarus28 November 2006

State postal company refuses to deliver many independent newspapers next year

Reporters Without Borders today condemned the removal of many independent newspapers from the list of publications to be distributed next year by the Belarusian state postal service, Belpochta, which has a monopoly of subscription press delivery and believes it can pick and choose what it delivers.

The delivery ban will hit four national newspapers - Narodnaya Volya, Nasha Niva, Tovarich, Svobodnie Novosti Plus - and many regional ones, including Brestski Kurier, Vitebski Kurier, Borisovskie Novosti, Gazeta Slonimskaya, Intex-press, Lyahavitski Chas, Volnaye Hlybokaue, Hantsavitski Chas and Miastsovi Chas.

“This is yet another bid by the Belarusian government to silence the independent press by depriving it of its means of existence,” Reporters Without Borders said. “As shown by the case of the newspaper Solidarnost, which stopped publishing at the end of 2005, severance of the postal delivery contract is often the prelude to closure.”

The press freedom organisation added: “The national postal service ought to deliver all newspapers, regardless of their political position. As Belpochta is directly controlled by the government, its selective refusal is a clear attempt to deprive the Belarusian public of access to independent news and information.”

The editors of five independent newspapers complained about this situation in an open letter to President Alexandre Lukashenko on 17 October. The information ministry responded that it did not have the right to meddle in the activities of independent business entities and force them to sign contracts.

Belpochta began breaking off its delivery contracts with independent newspapers in January 2005. At the same time, private delivery companies had their licences withdrawn, which has made it virtually impossible for independent newspapers to be delivered to subscribers.

Some have tried mailing their issues in envelopes, but this results in delays of two to three days. Others organise their own distribution in the capital, but cannot reach the rest of the country. Unable to be delivered, most privately-owned newspapers have had to cut back their print run. Some have stopped publishing in hard copy altogether and just operate a website.

The distribution system dates back to the Soviet era. Two state companies have monopolies. Belsouzpechat delivers newspapers to news stands, while Belpochta delivers them to subscribers. The state’s control of these companies means the pro-government press gets preferential treatment while distribution of critical media can be blocked altogether.

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