Russian TV bureau and U.S.-funded media organizations closed

New York, July 10, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns the recent closure by the Belarusian authorities of Russian television network NTV’s Belarus bureau, as well as the decision to cancel accreditation for the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX) and Internews, both U.S. government-funded organizations that provide support to independent media.

On July 7, Belarusian Council of Ministers ordered NTV’s bureau closed, according to several CPJ sources. This decision, officially based on the network’s alleged repeated violations of Belarus’ Media Law, followed the expulsion of NTV’s Belarus correspondent Pavel Selin late last month. [For more information, read CPJ’s June 30 news alert],

NTV’s management, as well as the Russian Press and Foreign Ministries intend to seek ways to reopen the bureau, according to Belarusian and Russian news reports.

IREX and Internews’ offices closed
In a separate development, on July 7, IREX, which has been operating in Belarus since 1997, received a written notice (dated June 30) from the Belarusian Foreign Affairs Ministry stating that IREX’s accreditation in Belarus would not be extended and that its offices must be closed and its activities canceled by August 7, 2003, said CPJ sources. IREX came under fire in late June when the Belarusian KGB accused it of being “a threat to Belarus’ security” on national television.

According to the letter, IREX’s accreditation will not be continued due to violations of Belarusian law.

Robert Ortega, resident adviser of IREX’s Minsk Office, told CPJ that he decision to shutter IREX is politically motivated and designed to punish IREX for supporting independent media.

Meanwhile, according to CPJ sources, the Council of Ministers also decided to cancel accreditation for the Belarusian branch of the U.S. government-funded Internews Network, which has been providing training and support to small provincial independent television companies in Belarus since 2001. No further details were available at press time, and the Internews office could not be reached for a comment.

“Belarusian president Alexandr Lukashenko’s concerted campaign against critical voices has reached catastrophic proportions and threatens to leave the Belarusian public and the world at large in the dark about his repressive regime’s activities,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper “Lukashenko and his bureaucrats should realize that their actions will only yield international criticism. He and his administration must stop hounding the independent press immediately.”

Crackdown on press intensifies
Lukashenko’s latest assault on the independent press that began in 2002 has intensified in recent months. Several independent publications, including Navinki, Belarusskaya Delovaya Gazeta, Ekho and Predprinimatelskaya Gazeta have been suspended for allegedly libeling the president. Two other papers, Vecherny Stolin and Provintsyyalka, were suspended earlier in the year for allegedly libeling local government officials ahead of the March local elections.