AUGUST 16, 2005
Posted October 31, 2005

Pavel Morozov, Andrei Obozov, Oleg Minich


On August 16, the city prosecutor’s office in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, launched a criminal case against a Web site that published a series of animated Internet cartoons satirizing Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko. The case was opened under Article 367 of the Belarusian penal code, “Defaming the President of the Republic of Belarus,” according to local press reports.

The series was created by anonymous cartoonists and posted on the Web site by the site’s creators, Pavel Morozov, Andrei Obozov, and Oleg Minich. The site belongs to the civic group Third Way, which advocates for democratic reforms in Belarus. Morozov, Obozov and Minich could be charged with criminal libel, Andrei Bastunets, deputy director of the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), told CPJ.

The two-minute animations mock Lukashenko’s rule, his immediate circle, and allegations of election-rigging, according to local and international reports.

On August 16, agents of the Belarusian Security Service (KGB) raided Morozov’s and Obozov’s apartments, and confiscated at least a dozen computers, dozens of computer discs, software and other technical equipment. Agents also interrogated Morozov and Obozov for more than five hours about the cartoons and accused them of insulting the honor and dignity of Lukashenko by distributing the animations, according to local press reports.

On August 22, KGB agents called Minich and his wife to the KGB headquarters in the city of Grodno and confiscated their passports. The passports were returned after Minich filed a plea at the Minsk prosecutor’s office, but the KGB retained the seized computers and equipment from Morozov’s and Obozov’s apartments.

Agents also blocked the Internet site during the raid. It later resumed operations when it switched servers, Bastunets told CPJ.

Media activists say the actions against Morozov, Obozov and Minich are part of a broader government crackdown on opposition activists and independent media in the run-up to presidential elections in Belarus scheduled for 2006.

Sergei Ivanov, the head of the investigations department at the Minsk prosecutor’s office, said that there have been similar cases, but this is the first animated film case so far. More than 20 independent newspapers have been closed in the past two years, many of which were charged with defaming Lukashenka, BAJ reported.