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Belarus24 January 2007

After being evicted, Vitebsk-based newspaper is threatened with withdrawal of licence

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Reporters Without Borders today condemned the information ministry’s attempts to force the closure of Vitebsky Kurier, an independent biweekly based in the northeastern city of Vitebsk. The ministry told the newspaper on 12 January, two days after it was evicted from its premises by the Vitebsk commercial court, that its permit will be withdrawn if it does not produce documents showing it has a new address within two weeks.

“This administrative manoeuvre is typical of the methods used by the Belarusian authorities to kill off independent newspapers, and it could mean the end of Vitebksy Kurier,” the press freedom organisation said. “News media are legally required to have an address approved by the government. If they do not, the government is free to terminate their operations and put the blame on them.”

Reporters Without Borders added: “We are not fooled by this strategy. The weekly Den was forced to close in 2005 by the repeated cancellation of its rental contract and the newspaper Nasha Niva, has been the target of four procedures of the same kind.”

The oldest of Belarus’ independent newspapers, Vitebsky Kurier was notified by mail on 12 January that it could lose its licence, two days after commercial court judge Olga Gatilo gave the newspaper ten days to vacate the premises it had been renting from a private company since October. This was the second time in the past year that it has been forced to move.

The newspaper has long been the target of judicial and administrative harassment. The Belarusian postal service Belpochta struck it from the list of newspapers it distributes last year. As a result, it started using volunteers to distribute its issues to subscribers in Vitebsk and began using normal mail to distribute to readers living outside the city. A total of three lawsuits have been brought against the newspaper since last April.

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