New York, January 10, 2006—Police have seized the entire print run of Belarus’ largest opposition daily for the second time this month, the paper said today. Narodnaya Volya (People’s Will), which has been harassed by authorities for criticizing President Aleksandr Lukashenko, lost all 30,000 copies on January 9.
The paper has been forced to print in the Russian city of Smolensk since October 2005 when local companies refused to print it on what Narodnaya Volya said were the orders of the Information Ministry. Border police in the northeastern Vitebsk region confiscated a shipment of 27,000 copies from Russia on January 3. The police released them a day later.
“We are experiencing a difficult start to the new year,” said Svetlana Kalinkina, deputy editor of Narodnaya Volya and a 2004 recipient of the Committee to Protect Journalists International Press Freedom Award. “Authorities are staging a virtual blockade to prevent the paper from reaching its readers in Belarus,” she told CPJ.
The latest issue which was seized contained critical reporting on government pressure on opposition candidates campaigning for a presidential election scheduled for March 2006.
“We are outraged at this overt pressure on Narodnaya Volya and call on Belarusian authorities to stop harassing the paper,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said.
At the start of 2006 the post office stopped distributing Narodnaya Volya which is banned from sale at newsstands. Staff now sells the paper at its Minsk newsroom and volunteers deliver copies to subscribers.
Kalinkina said banks refuse to accept deposits into the paper’s account from would-be readers trying to pay for a subscription. In December 2005, 180 residents of Soligorst in Minsk region signed a petition demanding that Narodnaya Volya be allowed to go on sale at newsstands and be distributed through the regular mail. On January 6, 2006, Soligorsk police started visiting signatories at their homes demanding an explanation of why they supported the paper, the Belarusian service of the U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.
“It is shocking that Belarus’ largest opposition newspaper is forced to resort to underground distribution methods reminiscent of the darkest days of Soviet oppression,” said CPJ’s Cooper. “This is doubly disturbing in the run-up to presidential elections when readers need alternative sources of information.”