Information Ministry closes independent newspaper for three months

New York, May 30, 2003—CPJ is disturbed that the independent, Minsk-based newspaper Belaruskaya Delovaya Gazeta was forced to cease publication for three months on order of Belarusian information minister Mikhail Podgayny.

Minister Podgayny issued the order on Wednesday, May 28, and the papers closed yesterday.

The Information Ministry had given three official warnings to Belaruskaya Delovaya Gazeta and to its monthly investigative supplement, BDG­Dlya sluzhebnogo polzovaniya, on May 20, 21, and 22 for allegedly defaming President Aleksandr Lukashenko and publishing information about court proceedings without obtaining proper authorization, according to local press reports.

The warnings stemmed from an April 18 poll about whether President Lukashenko should be allowed to use his presidential plane for personal use; an April 29 article about the trial of former Minsk Tractor Works director Mikhail Leonov on charges of corruption; and a series of articles in January and March about the recent trial of Vikto Kazeko, the former director of the state food company, Belgospishcheprom.

Belaruskaya Delovaya Gazeta appealed the warning with the Oktyabrsk District court in Minsk on May 26 and 27, according to Belaruskaya Delovaya Gazeta editor-in-chief Svetlana Kalinkina. Under Belarus’ draconian Media Law, media outlets that receive two government warnings can be closed.

However, Podgayny disregarded the pending judicial appeal and issued two decrees on Wednesday that ordered the immediate closure of the newspaper and its monthly supplement for three months.

The Information Ministry said the closure came in response to “flagrant [and] repeated violations of the law,” the Belapan news agency reported.

“Shuttering Belaruskaya Delovaya Gazeta is a clear effort to silence the newspaper in retaliation for its independent reporting,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “We call on the government to cease this politically motivated harassment and to allow the paper to resume publication immediately.”