Authorities Collect Information about Newspaper Distributors
Local authorities of Brest and Hrodna regions started to collect information about sellers of independent newspapers, reports press-service of the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ).
Several independent newspapers received "requests for information" about legal entities and private entrepreneurs who distribute the newspaper. The authorities requested information about their legal addresses and details of their licenses for selling printed materials.
In the end of February such requests were sent to Uladzimir Yanukevich, chief editor of the Lakhavitski Chas and Intex-Press (Baranavichy), and Andrei Shantarovich, chief editor of the Mestnaya Gazeta (Vawkavysk). BAJ found out that Lakhavichy and Vawkavysk administrations executed the orders of the regional administrations to collect the data till March 1. The orders also referred to presidential decree # 516 of September 24, 2004, which says "the Ministry of Information is to perform the function of state regulation in the sphere of information spreading". Deputy head of Lakhavichy administration Mikalai Kulitski states, the request for information was sent not only to independent, but also to state-owned newspapers (in particular, the Lakhavitski Vesnik newspaper).
BAJ lawyer Iryna Karamyshava comments:
"Firstly, according to Art 13 of the Constitution, the state guarantees freedom in business activities if they do not contradict the law. Secondly, Art 58 of the Constitution says, nobody can be forced to do the duties not described in the law. According to presidential decree #516 and the Ruling about the Ministry of Information, the Ministry really does perform the regulating function in the sphere of transmitting and spreading of information. However, this function does not mean the total control over the entities which distribute periodicals. Local authorities are not to perform this function either. Furthermore, the letters sent to the newspapers do not explain the necessity for such information".