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Belarus3 June 2003

Two journalists conditionally freed, but a third stays in labour camp

The administration of the Baranovichy labour camp announced on 3 June that Viktar Ivaskevich’s sentence has been reduced as a result of an amnesty. His release date is now 16 December, a year earlier than scheduled. He can now also request to be released on bail on 16 June.

A court in the southern town of Zhlobin on 21 March ordered the release for good conduct of Pavel Mazheiko, of the opposition newspaper Pagonya, and he returned at once to his home in Grodno. He was convicted of libelling President Alexander Lukashenko in a September 2001 article headed "Come and vote" and since 1 September 2002 had been serving a sentence of a year at hard labour in Zhlobin. Last month, the supreme court declined to review his conviction.

Nikolaï Markevich

Reporters Without Borders today welcomed the release on parole of Nikolai Markevich, editor of the opposition newspaper Pagonya, on 4 March but stressed that it was unacceptable that there were still constraints on his freedom and reiterated its calls for the release of Pagonya reporter Pavel Majeiko and Viktor Ivaskevich, editor of the opposition newspaper Rabochy, still serving sentences of hard labour for "insulting and defaming" President Alexander Lukashenko.

"Letting Nikolai Markevich go home was the least they could do," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said. "Neither he nor any other journalist should ever have been given a prison sentence for expressing their opinion," Ménard said, protesting that two other journalists were still imprisoned in Belarus just for doing their job because the authorities do not respect press freedom.

"Nikolai Markevich should not be on parole but fully free to his job as an editor, just as Pavel Majeiko and Viktor Ivaskevich should be released immediately and without conditions," Ménard said, demanding the repeal of articles 367, 368 and 369 of the criminal code under which they were jailed. These articles, which provide for up to five years in prison for "insulting and defaming the president" were an "aberration," he said.

A court in Osipovichi (south of Minsk) ruled on 4 March that Markevich could return to his home in Grodno, near the Polish border, subject to his submitting to regular judicial controls, finding a job and paying 15 per cent of his salary to the state for 12 months. He had been serving a sentence of 18 months hard labour in internal exile in Osipovichi since 1 September 2002. He was convicted for carrying reports in the 4 September 2001 issue of Pagonya accusing President Lukashenko of involvement in the disappearances of government opponents including journalist Dmitri Zavadski.

Pavel Majeïko à Zhlobin

Since 1 September 2002, Majeiko has been serving a sentence of one year of hard labour in the southern city of Zhlobin for criticising the president in an article published in Pagonya in September 2001. The supreme court upheld his conviction in February.

Viktor Ivaskevich

Ivaskevich has been serving a sentence of two years hard labour since 16 December 2002. He was convicted of defaming the president in an article in an election special in the summer of 2001 which was headlined, "A thief’s place is in prison" and which accused the president of corruption.

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