Belarus: Independent press systematically intimidated

May 25, 2000

His Excellency Alexander Lukashenko
President of Belarus Republic
Minsk 220020
VIA FAX: 011-375-172-23-58-25

Your Excellency:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply disturbed by the continuing pattern of intimidation by federal and local authorities of the independent press in Belarus.

Over the past few months, we have monitored many violations of press freedom, and we now wish to draw your attention to the following:

  • the independent weekly Nasha Niva is threatened with closure;
  • the Reporter newspaper in Grodno is being refused registration rights;
  • Journalists have been attacked and detained while covering demonstrations;
  • A journalist has been harassed and threatened by the KGB.
    On May 15, the office of the General Prosecutor handed Nasha Niva its second official warning this year. The warning resulted from an April 10 article titled “Infection of Fascism. A Lukashenko copies A. Hitler.” Under Belarusian law, the newspaper can be shut down if the warning is upheld in court.

    The first warning against Nasha Niva, upheld May 11 on appeal, related to a Belarusian reader’s letter published March 13 which the authorities claimed showed “intolerance against Russians.” According to the newspaper’s editor, the reader complained of insults and humiliations which she received on a daily basis because she does only speaks the Belarusian language.

    In both these cases, the authorities invoked Article 5 of the Media Law, entitled “The Abuse of the Freedom of Mass Media.” CPJ believes this article is being used to prevent journalists and citizens from expressing their opinion freely.

    On May 2, five journalists from the independent newspaper Reporter gathered in Lenin Square in Grodno to protest the city government’s continued refusal to register their newspaper. They were reportedly detained in police custody for three hours before their release. Although Reporter submitted an application for registration in February, the Grodno Municipal Executive Council claims it cannot issue the license since the building that houses the paper does not have the required “passport of technical condition.” According to CPJ sources, the refusal is an attempt by the Council (which is currently registering its own newspaper, Vecherny Grodno)to control the local media.

    On May 1, two journalists were arrested while attempting to cover an opposition rally in the town of Mogilev, according to local news sources. Igor Irkho, a journalist with the De Facto independent newspaper was reportedly physically attacked by police and his camera was damaged. He and a colleague who was also covering the demonstration, Alexander Alexandrovich, a correspondent with the newspaper Belaruskaya Delovaya Gazeta, were both detained for several hours by local police.

    Yahor Mayorchyk, a freelance contributor to the Belarusian Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, was summoned for an interview with a KGB officer in Minsk on April 25. In the course of the 90-minutre meeting, the officer threatened that if Mayorchyk refused to ‘cooperate’ with the security services, “the same thing will happen to you as to Babitsky.” (RFE/RL journalist Babitsky was arrested by Russian authorities in Chechnya and held captive for over 40 days).

    As a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to defending the rights of our colleagues around the world, CPJ condemns your government’s repeated attempts to harass and threaten independent newspapers and individual journalists.

    CPJ strongly urges you to use the power of your office to revoke the General Prosecutor’s warning against Nasha Niva, support Reporter in its quest for official registration status, and to ensure that all journalists in Belarus may gather and disseminate information without fear of reprisal.

    Thank you for your attention. We await your comments.


    Ann K. Cooper
    Executive Director