Reporters Without Borders call on Aliaksandr Lukashenka to stop hounding of independent press
The independent press under threat of programmed destruction
Reporters Without Borders called on President Alexander Lukachenko to stop the systematic hounding of the independent press as simultaneous attacks on the country’s two leading independent newspapers, demonstrated the authorities’ resolve to silence critical voices.
The authorities have pulled the plug on printing and distribution of the sole opposition daily, Narodnaya Volya, while BDG. Delovaya Gazeta has been hammered by harsh fines.
“We call on President Alexander Lukachenko to put an end to this policy of systematic harassment of the handful of media that try to provide the people of Belarus with news other than the official version,” said the worldwide press freedom organisation.
Narodnaya Volya - circulation 29,000 - which had already had its accounts frozen by the authorities on 20 September 2005, was refused printing and distribution by the authorities on 1st October. State printers Krasnaya Zvezda and the company Minoblsayuzdruk, which has a distribution monopoly in Belarus, both broke their contracts without explanation.
On 3 October the management of Narodnaya Volya nevertheless managed to strike an agreement with printers in Smolensk, Russia and the daily will in future appear as a tri-weekly. “The escalation of deliberate obstruction to the independent press proves that the authorities have decided to close all alternative media between now and the 2006 presidential elections”, the paper’s editor Yosif Seredich told Reporters Without Borders.
The newspaper had just managed, with the support of its readership, to find the money needed to pay a 38,000-euro fine imposed for “defamation” and upheld by the Minsk court on 20 September 2005. The daily was also hit with a fine of 47,000 euros for “defamation” on 25 July.
Elsewhere, the Kastrychinski court in Minsk on 30 September sentenced the BDG Delovaya Gazeta and its reporter Syarhey Satsuk to respectively 19,000 euros and 2,000 euros fines for having “defamed” a former police officer. The newspaper will also have to publish an apology.
It related to the publication of an article on 20 May 2003, headlined “Advertising Campaign”, about a judicial investigation into shady dealings on the part of two former police officers. One of them, Syarhey Byadrytski, brought a complaint against BDG in June this year.
The Belarus Association of Journalists (BAJ), partner organisation of Reporters Without Borders and laureate of the 2004 Sakharov Prize, condemned the fine as “totally disproportionate|” and “a threat to the weekly’s future.”