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Belarus14 January 2004

Country’s top-selling newspaper targeted

Reporters Without Borders has condemned a crackdown against the country’s top selling newspaper, the independent Belorusskaya Delovaya Gazeta (BDG).The Belarus post office, Belpochta, which delivers the newspapers to subscribers countrywide as well as the state distributor Belsayuzdruk, have both cancelled their 2004 contracts with the newspaper. Elsewhere, death threats were made overnight on 10/11 January against Irina Makovetskaya, the newspaper’s correspondent in Gomel, southern Belarus.

Given that the authorities did everything possible to obstruct the BDG in 2003, the refusal of two state companies to work with the newspaper cannot be coincidental, said Reporters Without Borders. The international press freedom organisation said it was also worried about anonymous calls to journalist Irina Makovetskaya threatening to "bury" her and accusing her of "not liking" the Belarussian people and President Lukashenko. Reporters Without Borders warned that it would hold the authorities responsible if anything should happen to the journalist.

Belpochta said in a letter on 28 December that it would not renew the contract with BDG on the grounds that its appearance in 2003 had been sporadic. In fact the authorities suspended BDG for three months in May 2003 over an article deemed offensive to President Lukashenko. It had huge difficulty in resuming publication. Since September 2003, it has been printed in Smolensk, in Russia. The state distributor, Belsayuzdruk, which has a virtual monopoly, has refused since 9 January to distribute BDG in Minsk, Brest and Vitsebsk. The newspaper is likely to bring an official complaint against both Belpochta and Belsayuzdruk.

A mystery caller telephoned Irina Makovetskaya several times overnight on 10/11 January, introducing himself as a "representative of the Belarussian people". He told the journalist that, despite her efforts, President Lukashenko would be reelected for a third term, adding that BDG only had a few days left. He accused her over articles about the Prime Minister Sergei Sidorsky and a winery turning over huge sum of money that had alleged links with the KGB. She said the caller was well informed about her contacts with an investigator connected with a defamation allegation made against her in 2002 by the Minsk prosecutor, Vyacheslav Terekhovich, leading her to conclude that he could be working for the authorities.

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