International Press Institute Condemns Persecution of Independent Newspapers in Belarus
H.E. Aleksandr Lukashenko
Office of the President
Republic of Belarus
Fax: +375 17 222 35 03
Vienna, 3 November 2004
The International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists in over 120 countries, strongly condemns the prison sentence handed to Pavel Mazheyka, head of the Hrodna branch of the Belarusian Association of Journalists and chief editor of the banned “Pahonia” newspaper.
According to information before IPI, Mazheyka was sentenced to seven days in jail by a district court in Hrodna on 1 November for participating in an unauthorized demonstration. On 4 October, Mazheyka, along with four other journalists, protested in Hrodna against the pressures on the independent media.
In particular, they protested the fine given to the editor-in-chief of the Hrodna-based independent weekly newspaper “Birzha informatsii” (Information Stock Exchange), Alena Rawbieckaya. On 30 September, Rawbieckaya was charged with slandering the president, and fined 1.3 Million rubles (approximately US$ 600) for her critical piece on the 17 October referendum. The article, titled "Treason in the Name of the Law", appeared on the front page of the newspaper on 9 September.
The sentencing of Mazheyka is just one of the many attacks on the independent media before, during and after the 17 October elections and referendum. During this period, five journalists were physically attacked; several journalists were deported, while others were barred from attending press conferences; more than ten newspapers were suspended and some printing houses refused to publish newspapers.
IPI would like to remind Your Excellency that Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right "to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media". We call on you to end the campaign against independent media and to create an environment in Belarus that allows journalists to practice their profession without fear of harassment or intimidation.
We thank you for your attention.
Johann P. Fritz