New York, March 24, 2003—A Zhlobin district court in eastern Belarus granted parole on Friday, March 21, to Paval Mazheika, a journalist with the independent newspaper Pahonya. The journalist was released immediately and traveled to his home in Hrodna, in the western part of the country.
Mazheika, who had served half of his one-year prison sentence in a corrective facility in the city of Zhlobin, was granted parole on good behavior. If he receives two parole violations, the journalist can be sent back to prison.
Convicted of libeling the president
On June 24, 2002, Hrodna’s Leninsky District Court found Mazheika and Mikola Markevich, Pahonya‘s editor-in-chief, guilty of libeling President Aleksandr Lukashenko. The journalists were sentenced to two years and two-and-a-half 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.
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.
On March 4, 2003, a Belarusian court ruled that because of good behavior, Markevich could serve the remainder of his sentence in his hometown of Hrodna. The journalist had served a third of his sentence in a corrective facility in the city of Asipovichy, in eastern Belarus.
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, 2002.