World Association of Newspapers Urges Lukashenka to Stop Harassment of Independent Press in Belarus
According to http://www.ifex.org
(WAN/IFEX) - The following is a 26 August 2005 WAN letter to Belarusian President Alexander Lukaschenko:
For the attention of:
Belarusian President Alexander Lukaschenko
26 August 2005
We are writing on behalf of the World Association of Newspapers, which represents 18,000 publications in 100 countries, and the European Newspaper Publishers Association, which represents 5,100 titles in 24 European countries, to express our serious concern at the continued crackdown on the independent media in Belarus, including the closure of two independent publishing houses and ongoing harassment of the Polish minority press.
According to reports, on 24 August, a Belarusian court ordered the liquidation of the independent publishing company Press-Servis, for "exceeding the terms of its charter by publishing a newspaper". The dissolution of the publishing house will result in the closure of both the Borisov Courier newspaper and its news site. Two days earlier, on 22 August, the independent publishing house Denpress, which publishes the Den newspaper, was closed down.
Furthermore, the Polish minority press in your country is the target of an ongoing campaign of intimidation and harassment. On 4 August, Andrez Pisalnik, editor-in-chief of the Polish-language newspaper Glos znad Niemna, and a regular contributor to the Polish daily Rzeczpospolita, was sentenced to ten days in prison for "participating in an illegal gathering", after taking part in a demonstration on 3 July. On 27 July, Andrzej Poczobut, editor-in-chief of the Polish-language magazine Magazyn Polski, was handed a 15-day prison sentence on similar charges after participating in the same demonstration.
Pisalnik, who is also a spokesperson for the Union of Poles in Belarus (SPB), was briefly detained alongside Poczobut on 6 July in the city of Grodno while participating in a protest against the continuing harassment of their respective publications. One of the reasons behind the protest was the appearance of a false edition of Pisalnik's newspaper in May that carried articles presenting the government's official stance in its conflict with the SPB.
On 27 July, police raided the offices of the SPB, and a number of journalists present in the offices were briefly detained. Among them were Pisalnik, Inesa Todryk, a reporter for Glos znad Niemna, Waclaw Radziwinowicz and Robert Kowalewski, journalists for the leading Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza, Pavel Mazheika, the head of the Grodno office of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, and Siarhey Hryts, a photographer for the Associated Press (AP).
Other recent incidents of harassment include the 27 July detention of Agnieszka Romaszewska, a journalist for the Polish TV channel TVP1, and the 6 August expulsion of Adam Tuchlinski, a Polish photographer. Both were accused of failing to have the proper accreditation. Tuchlinski is now banned from entry to Belarus for a period of five years.
We respectfully remind you that the closure of the Press-Servis and Denpress publishing houses constitutes a clear breach of the right to freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by numerous international conventions, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Article 19 of the Declaration states: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media, regardless of frontiers."
The jailing of Andrez Pisalnik and Andrzej Poczobut for taking part in demonstrations violates Article 20 of the Declaration, which states that "everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association."
Furthermore, Belarus has a longstanding application for membership within the Council of Europe. One of the key and defining instruments of the Council's activities, to which all members have signed up, is the European Convention on Human Rights, which states in Articles 10, 11 and 14 its commitments to freedom of expression.
We respectfully call on you to immediately cease all harassment of the independent press in Belarus. We urge you to take all necessary steps to ensure that in the future your country fully respects international and regional standards of freedom of expression.
We look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.
European Newspaper Association
World Association of Newspapers