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Belarus19 April 2004

Authorities harass an independent newspaper

Independent weekly newspaper Den is facing the threat of eviction from Grodno, just days after police seized every copy of the newspaper. Mikolai Markevich, former editor in chief of the newspaper Pagonya, shut down in 2001, took over Den after serving 18 months hard labour for insulting President Alexander Lukashenko.

Reporters Without Borders condemned the harassment of Den that has gone on for months. Constant obstacles have been thrown in its path from lightening seizures to the refusal of printers in the country to work with the newspaper, forcing it to print in Russia.

"It appears the authorities have decided at all costs to stop the Pagonya team and its editor in chief Mikolai Markevich from resuming work, despite the fact that he has already paid heavily for his outspokenness. We call on the authorities to desist from any form of harassment against this newspaper," said the international press freedom organisation.

A housing administrative office in Grodno (near the Polish border) ordered the Batskaushchina organisation that hosts the Den team to vacate their offices before 15 May. The organisation was accused of illegally sub-letting to the newspaper. Markevich has pointed out explained that the administration has more than ten times refused him the right to officially set up the newspaper in Grodno.

Police seized 4,800 copies of Den at Ivye, 130 kms from Grodno, on their way to Belarus from the printers in Smolensk, Russia on 7 April. No reason was given for the seizure and the copies are still in police possession.

The seized issue carried an article complaining about police refusal to take action against two men who were arrested on 18 March attempting to break into the Batskaushchyna offices. Markevich recognised one of the men as a KGB officer.

The Svetach print works in Minsk illegally broke its contract with the newspaper in November 2003 as did the distributors, Belsayuzdruk, on 29 January 2004.

Markevich was sentenced on 15 August 2002, to 18 months hard labour for allowing articles to be published in the 4 September 2001 issue of Pagonya accusing the president of being implicated in the disappearance of opponents of his regime. The same day, Pavel Mazheiko, who wrote an article headlined "Come and vote" was sentenced to one-year hard labour. On 13 November 2001, the newspaper was closed.

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