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Belarus18 January 2008

Journalists gets three years in prison for reprinting Mohammed cartoons

Reporters Without Borders is outraged by the three-year prison sentence passed today by a court in Minsk on Alyaksandr Zdvizhkou, former deputy editor of the weekly Zhoda, for reprinting cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that first appeared in a Danish newspaper. He was found guilty of “inciting racial hatred” under article 130 of the criminal code at the end of a trial behind closed doors.(JPEG)

“This sentence is extremely severe,” the press freedom organisation said. “Zdvizhkou should never have been prosecuted. It is highly likely that this was just a pretext for punishing an opposition journalist. The circumstances of his arrest reinforce that interpretation.”

Originally published in the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten in September 2005, the cartoons were reproduced by Zdvizhkou in the 18 February 2006 issue of Zhoda to illustrate an article about protest movements in the Muslim world. The issue had a print run of 3,050 copies but only 25 per cent were distributed as the editor stopped distribution as soon as he became aware of the cartoons’ inclusion.

The Belarusian KGB immediately raided the newspaper, seizing four of its computers, and judicial proceedings were initiated a few days later. Zdvizhkou, who said the measures were “politically motivated” was originally to have been tried in June 2006, but he fled the country and remained aboard. He was finally arrested on 18 November 2007 when he returned to visit his father’s grave in Barysau, near Minsk.

Zhoda was linked to Alyaksandr Kazulin, who ran against President Alexandre Lukashenko in the March 2006 presidential election. Lukashenko was very critical of Zhoda and Kazulin in a televised speech during the campaign, calling Kazulin a “hoodlum.” The economic supreme court closed Zhoda down on 17 March 2006.

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