Committee to Protect Journalists
Country Report: Belarus
As of December 31, 1998

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With free enterprise stifled, opposition activists detained, and independent media restricted, the Soviet-style rule of President Aleksander Lukashenko continued to have disastrous effects on Belarus' economic and political life. The United States and other Western governments withdrew their ambassadors after Lukashenko locked diplomats out of their Minsk houses in June. And Belarussian citizens warned that their president's disdain for the West reflects his ultimate goal: to rule a Slavic union that includes Russia.

To combat his critics, Lukashenko increased the already onerous restrictions on the media. In April, the press in Minsk learned of an undated, secret government memorandum that directed state agencies not to give resolutions, orders, or other official documents to non-state media. The memorandum also barred state officials from commenting about official documents to independent journalists, and restricted state advertising to state-run media. The latter move was a severe financial threat to the emerging independent press, which mainly consists of small-circulation daily and weekly newspapers.

In May, CPJ named Lukashenko one of the world's 10 worst Enemies of the Press for the second year in a row. When that news was reported by the Minsk-based independent weekly Zdravy Smysl, the State Committee on the Press issued a warning to the paper, charging it had provided "distorted information. "The warning was based on the newspaper's use of the word "decree" to describe the secret memorandum forbidding distribution of government documents to non-state media.

In November, Lukashenko refused to allow Pavel Sheremet, Minsk bureau chief for Russian ORT television and editor of Belorusskaya Delovaya Gazeta, to travel to New York City to receive CPJ's 1998 International Press Freedom Award. Sheremet is a citizen of Belarus and ORT bureau chief in Minsk. The Belarus government has frequently targeted him for official harassment, including imprisonment, stripping him of his professional credentials, and barring him from traveling abroad. On November 26, two days after CPJ's awards ceremony, the government finally told Sheremet he was free to travel. Instead of going to New York City, Sheremet received the award from a CPJ delegation that traveled to Minsk on December 8 to present the honor before dozens of independent journalists, diplomats, and Belarussian politicians.
Attacks on the Press in Belarus  in 1998
Date Journalist Incident
03/26/98 All media Censored
01/28/98 Pavel Sheremet, ORT Minsk Bureau Chief, Belorusskaya Delovaya Gazeta Harassed, Legal Action
01/28/98 Dmitri Zavadsky, ORT Minsk Bureau cameraman Legal Action

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