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Belarus30 May 2003

Government shuts down independent daily for three months

The newspaper Ekho, which had planned to run Belorusskaya Delovaya Gazeta articles, was also shut down for three months by the information ministry on 5 June, without breaking the press law in any way. The Ekho issue of 4 June was not printed. Officially, this was for technical reasons.

Reporters Without Borders called on the information minister to rescind his decree of 28 May shutting down the independent daily Belorusskaya Delovaya Gazeta and its monthly supplement BDG - Dla Sluzhebnoho Polzovaniya for three months for allegedly "breaking the news media law."

The forced closure of Belorusskaya Delovaya Gazeta is "a new offensive in the government’s flagrant harassment of the independent press" and is "clearly aimed at silencing journalists who criticise President Lukashenko," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said in a letter to information minister Michail Padhajny. "This measure also breaks the law because you did not deign to wait until the courts reached a decision on this matter," Ménard added.

Belorusskaya Delovaya Gazeta had received several warnings as a result of its reports about an affair between President Lukashenko and Miss Russia, Svetlana Koroleva, and the ongoing trial of businessman Mikhaïl Leonov for alleged embezzlement of public funds. When threatened with closure for defaming the president and covering a trial without the court’s permission, the newspaper had appealed to the supreme economic court, which has not yet issued its ruling.

At least five newspapers have been temporarily shut down or prevented from appearing on a range of pretexts in the past six months. Information minister Mikhail Podgainy on 24 April ordered the closure of the independent regional newspaper Pravinstsyalka for three months because it changed its legal address and the subjects it writes about without coordinating with the information ministry and local authorities.

A regional court on 19 May refused to register the new legal address of the newspaper Volny Gorad, thereby preventing the newspaper itself from being registered. On 3 February, the court responsible for commercial matters in the Grodno region suspended the commercial licence of Ramuald Ulan, the founder of Novaya Gazeta Smorgoni, an independent weekly in the town of Smorgon, thereby condemning the newspaper to closure. The executive committee accused Ulan of violating the right to work, tax legislation and fire regulations in 2000 and 2002.

On 26 November 2002, the information ministry invalidated the registration of the independent weekly Mestnoye Vremya on the pretext that its new address had not been legalised, although the law makes no provision for such a drastic sanction in such circumstances. Launched at the start of November, the newspaper was able to bring out only three issues.

The sentences of hard labour passed on Mikolai Markevich, editor of the regional newspaper Pagonya, and one of his journalists, Pavel Mazheiko, for insulting the president were reduced in spring 2003 and they were allowed to serve out the rest of their sentences in their home town. But Viktar Ivaskevich, the editor of the newspaper Rabochy, is still in a labour camp for an article he wrote and published accusing President Lukashenko of corruption.

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