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Belarus28 April 2008

Police seize copies of independent weekly based in Vitebsk

Copies of an independent Vitebsk-based weekly that had been printed in Smolensk, a city 145 km away, because of the inability to print them locally were seized by police as they were being brought into Vitebsk on a bus by opposition activist Valery Shchukin on 24 April. The activist had to be hospitalised with high blood pressure when the police used force.

“We condemn the constant harassment of the independent press in Belarus and we call on the authorities to return the copies of Vitebsky Kuryer M that were seized by the police,” Reporters Without Borders said.

Shchukin was getting off a bus with the copies of the Vitebsky Kuryer M in a bag when police who had been following the bus asked him to surrender them. They used force when he refused to comply, precipitating a hypertension attack that required Shchukin’s hospitalisation.

The police claim that Shchukin broke a newspaper distribution law. The staff of Vitebsky Kuryer M decided to bring out an issue with a print run of about 1,000 copies after a long spell with no issue being published because of financial problems.

If the staff had not brought out the issue, the information ministry could have cancelled their licence under a law providing for automatic loss of licence for a newspaper that fails to publish for a year. They had to get it printed in Smolensk because the only Vitebsk-based printer, which is state-owned, refused to print the issue.

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