CPJ condemns conviction of independent journalists

New York, June 25, 2002—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns yesterday’s conviction of Mikola Markevich and Paval Mazheika, both of the independent weekly newspaper Pahonya.

The Leninsky District Court in the city of Hrodno, in western Belarus, found editor-in-chief Markevich and journalist Mazheika guilty of libeling President Aleksandr Lukashenko. The journalists were sentenced to two-and-a-half and two years, respectively, of hard labor.

According to Pahonya‘s online edition, the two journalists will live in a specially designated location under police supervision and will perform compulsory labor. The conviction marked a debut in the use of a criminal libel law passed in 1999, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, said Belarusian and international reports.

The case stems from two September 2001 editions of Pahonya that criticized the president ahead of the September 9, 2001, presidential elections.

In a separate incident, on June 20, 2002, the prosecutor’s office charged Viktar Ivashkevich, editor-in-chief of the independent newspaper Rabochy, with criminally defaming Lukashenko.

Under the Belarusian Criminal Code, Ivashkevich faces up to five years in prison.

The case against Ivashkevich came after an article in a special August 2001 issue of Rabochy, titled “A Thief Belongs in Prison,” accused Lukashenko and his administration of corruption.