Belarus Cracks Down on the Press

Secret Directive Limits Access to Information

Ministry of Justice to Require Journalists be Licensed

His Excellency Aleksander Lukashenko President of the Republic of Belarus

June 5, 1998

Your Excellency,

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply disturbed by the ongoing government restrictions on independent media in Belarus.

The Belarusian Association of Journalists informed CPJ of a March 26 secret directive to state agencies, explicitly instructing them to cease responding to inquiries from the independent media. The letter, marked "for authorized use only", was signed by Bolozinski, a State Committee on the Press representative and a Senior Advisor of the Department of Socio-Cultural Policy at the Council of Ministers. The secret directive came just ten days after the Ministry of Justice decided to require licenses for access to and dissemination of official documents, both in print and in electronic form. The strict licensing procedure does not apply to state-run media.

According to the secret directive, state agencies were forbidden from releasing any information on official documents, such as laws, decrees, resolutions, and orders to the independent media. Nor are agencies permitted to release copies of the official documents themselves. The directive moreover, prohibits officials from commenting on any official documents already available to the independent press, and bans state agencies from placing advertisements in the independent media.

As a non partisan organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of press freedom worldwide, CPJ views your government's move to restrict access to official information by licensing non-governmental media as a gross violation of Belarusian and international legal norms that guarantee the rights of journalists to gather information and the public's right to be informed.

CPJ urges you to immediately rescind your directive and guarantee the independent media free access to government documentation. We call on the Belarusian government to bring Belarus' laws and practices regarding the press in accordance with international standards of press freedom, especially Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

I thank you for the attention to this important matter and look forward to a reply at your earliest convenience.

Sincerely,

William A. Orme

Executive Director

Join CPJ in protesting this attack on the Belarusian press. Send a fax to President Lukashenko at :

011-375-17-223-5825

or

011-375-17-226-0610