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Belarus26 February 2009

Judge orders two issues of cultural magazine seized and destroyed

Reporters Without Borders condemns yesterday’s decision by judge Tatsiana Miranyuk of a district court in the western city of Brest to order the immediate seizure and destruction of the seventh and eighth issues of the opposition cultural magazine Arche on the grounds that their content was “extremist”.

“We are again confronted by an absurd logic,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The administrative and judicial harassment of Arche since its creation in 1997 is a sad reminder of what went on under Soviet domination. It does not bode well for the progress in press freedom we had been hoping for. We express our support for the magazine’s founder, Andrei Dynko, and its editor, Valer Bulhakau, and we urge the judicial authorities to reconsider this decision.”

During a closed-door hearing which only the magazine’s lawyer, Pavel Sapelka, was allowed to attend, the court found that, under the anti-extremism law, Arche contained information “that discredits the activities of the authorities of the Republic of Belarus, fuels political and social tension and incites the organisation of a collective revolt.” At the request of the State Security Agency (KGB), the judge ruled that Arche represented “a threat to the country’s security.” Sapelka said he would appeal.

One of the Arche’s journalists, Ales Pashkievich, was travelling on a train bound for neighbouring Poland in October 2008 when dozens of copies of the magazine were seized during a security check. The officers who took the copies said at the time that some of the articles were “dangerous for the interests of Belarus.”

Although a Belarusian magazine, Arche is printed and published in Poland. Its sale is not allowed in Belarus, but it is distributed there by a network of volunteers.

“Extremism” prosecutions were brought last year against the independent newspapers Nasha Svaboda and Glos Znad Niema but they were not convicted. Since then, the authorities have indicated that the media are to be allowed more freedom but concrete measures have yet to be taken.

Belarus was ranked 154th out of 173 countries in the 2008 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

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