Belarus10 September 2002
Editor of independent newspaper on trial for "insulting the President"
Reporters Without Borders expressed fears today that an independent newspaper editor, Viktor Ivaskevich, of the newspaper Rabochy, could be sent to prison if convicted of "insulting" Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko. His trial begins tomorrow in Pervomaisky, Minsk.
"In the last few days, two Belarus journalists have begun serving prison terms of hard labour just for having done their job," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard. "It is unthinkable that Ivaskevich should be next on the list. The country’s laws that permit such abuses should be abolished once and for all."
"We repeat our request to the Council of Europe to impose clear conditions concerning freedom of information in moves for closer relations with Belarus, especially the matter of prison terms for defamation."
Ivaskevich faces five years in jail under article 367/2 of the penal code after he published an article in a special elections issue of the paper in the summer of last year, headed "A thief’s place is in prison," referring to President Lukasheko. His trial opens on 11 September.
Reporters Without Borders is associated with the campaign by the Belarussian Association of Journalists (BAJ) for the abolition of articles 367, 368 and 369 of the penal code which threaten press freedom. These articles, which call for up to five years imprisonment for "insulting and defaming the president," were used to convict Nikolai Markevich (editor) and Pavel Mazheiko (journalist) of the opposition newspaper Pagonya and impose sentences of respectively a year and a year and a half forced labour, which they began serving at the beginning of this month.