CPJ denounces closure of independent weekly newspaper

New York, November 13, 2001
—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) denounced a Belarusian High Economic Court decision to shut down the Hrodno-based independent weekly Pahonya.

Yesterday the court found Pahonya guilty of insulting President Aleksandr Lukashenko and publishing the statements of an unregistered civic organization, according to local and international press reports. The newspaper had received two prior warnings in relation to these charges.

Pahonya received the first warning on November 17, 2000, and the second warning in early September 2001.

Prior to the second warning, the regional prosecutor’s office confiscated Pahonya‘s entire print run and opened a criminal case against the newspaper.

The Lukashenko government launched a sweeping crackdown against the local press during the run-up to the September 9 presidential election, which Lukashenko won amid widespread allegations of state-sponsored electoral fraud.

“We condemn the closure of Pahonya,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “This blatantly politicized ruling is a clear reprisal for Pahonya‘s vocal criticism of President Lukashenko.”

Pahonya’s editor-in-chief, Mikola Markevich, plans to appeal the decision and will continue to publish the newspaper on the Internet, local sources reported.

Systematic repression
Under Lukashenko, who came to power in 1994, attacks on the press have become routine in Belarus. Prior to the September election, Belarusian authorities ruthlessly harassed independent publications.

Local journalists were shocked and enraged when Russian cameraman Dmitry Zavadsky disappeared in Belarus last year. Zavadsky’s fate remains unknown despite credible leads implicating the Belarusian government in his disappearance.

Although Lukashenko’s campaign platform stated, “Every person has the right to his own opinion, he will also have the right to express it freely and without limitation,” attacks on the press have continued following the president’s re-election.