Court amends imprisoned journalist’s sentence

New York, March 7, 2003—A Belarusian court ruled on Tuesday, March 4, that jailed journalist Mikola Markevich, editor-in-chief of the independent weekly newspaper Pahonya, could serve the remainder of his sentence in his hometown of Hrodna, in western Belarus.

Markevich will be allowed to reside with his family, but he will now have to register with Hrodna law enforcement authorities and find employment. He is also obligated to give 15 percent of his earnings to the state and sign a pledge not to leave Hrodna’s city limits.

The journalist served the first six months of his sentence in a specially designated corrective facility in the city of Asipovichy, in the eastern part of the country. Under Belarusian law, Markevich, who had served one-third of his term, was eligible for a revision to his sentence, contingent on good behavior.

Convicted of libeling the president
On June 24, 2002, Hrodna’s Leninsky District Court found Markevich and Paval Mazheika, a reporter with Pahonya, guilty of libeling President Aleksandr Lukashenko. The journalists were sentenced to two-and-a-half and two years, respectively, of corrective labor.

The journalists appealed the conviction, but on August 15, the Hrodna Regional Court upheld the verdicts. Because of a special government amnesty program, however, their sentences were reduced by one year each.

Zhanna Litvina, head of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, told CPJ that Mazheika is currently awaiting a court hearing that will determine whether his sentence is amended.

The case stems from two September 2001 editions of Pahonya that criticized the president ahead of the September 9, 2001, presidential elections. Pahonya was closed in November 2001, after the Belarusian High Economic Court found the publication guilty of insulting President Lukashenko and publishing the statements of an unregistered civic organization.

Another independent journalist currently imprisoned
On September 16, 2002, Viktar Ivashkevich, editor-in-chief of the independent newspaper Rabochy, was convicted of libeling President Lukashenko and sentenced to two years’ corrective labor. The case against Ivashkevich stemmed from an article in a special August 2001 issue of the newspaper titled “A Thief Belongs in Prison,” which accused Lukashenko’s administration of corruption.

Ivashkevich appealed the verdict in the Minsk City Court, which upheld the conviction on October 15, 2002. He began serving his sentence on December 16.