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Belarus7 August 2002

Authorities target two more independent newspapers

Reporters Without Borders today voiced its utmost concern about the fate of the independent press in Belarus after the Minsk independent daily Nasha Svoboda was sentenced on 2 August to pay a fine that threatens its survival and as authorities continue with plans to prosecute the independent newspaper Rabochy. These moves were preceded by the jail sentences imposed in June on the editor and a journalist of the Grodno opposition newspaper Pagonya.

"The government succeeded in getting rid of Pagonya and now pursues its sham justice by attacking Nasha Svoboda and Rabochy", Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said in a letter to Information Minister Mikhail Podgainy. "We ask you to drop all these abusive proceedings against independent newspapers. We also ask you to modify the penal code in order to eliminate prison sentences for defamation, in particular article 367/2 concerning defamation of the President of the Republic."

On 2 August, journalist Mikhail Podolyak and his newspaper, Nasha Svoboda, were sentenced to fines of 15 million and 100 million Belarusian rubles respectively for libeling Anatoly Tozik, president of the Committee for State Control. On 1 August, the day before the trial started, authorities seized Nasha Svoboda’s computers.

Meanwhile, Rabochy editor Viktor Ivaskevich faces a possible five-year jail sentence when he comes to trial on 11 September for allegedly defaming President Alexander Lukashenko under article 367/2 of the penal code in a report that appeared in a special elections issue in summer 2001. As a result of the report, entitled "A thief belongs in prison", 40,000 copies of the special issue were confiscated.

Previously, on 24 June, Pagonya editor Nikolay Markevitch and one of the newspaper’s journalists, Pavel Majeyko, were sentenced to prison terms with hard labour for allegedly defaming President Lukashenko. Their appeal is due to be heard on 15 August.

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