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Belarus7 May 2008

Hrodna-based weekly threatened by eviction, other forms of harassment

Reporters Without Borders condemns an eviction order and other efforts by local authorities to harass the weekly Gazeta Slonimskaya, the only independent newspaper in the western region of Hrodna. Its editor, Uladzimir Uladashchuk, appealed to readers for support on 30 April.

“We reiterate our concern about harassment of the few independent news media in Belarus,” the press freedom organisation said. “The authorities are doing everything possible to prevent them from operating in the few months left before the next parliamentary elections.”

Gazeta Slonimskaya received an order last month to vacate the premises it rents from the state-controlled company Slonimski Bytkambinat by 1 June. The company gave no reason for the decision. The newspaper’s management has not found other premises. All agencies refuse to have any dealings with it for fear of reprisals.

Uladashchuk was meanwhile summoned to the local office of the army on 22 April and was ordered to begin 26 days of military training on 20 May. He is convinced that the summons was no coincidence, that it was contrived in order to get him out of the way while the newspaper was being evicted.

A few days before receipt of the eviction order, district chief Mechyslaw Kastsyuk threatened to suspend the newspaper’s licence on the grounds that a woman had sold copies in a place where this is not permitted.

Administrative harassment involving nit-picking application of regulations is officialdom’s favourite method of gagging the independent press in Belarus.

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