CPJ condemns attempts to close independent weekly

New York, April 19, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists today condemned an attempt by authorities in the Belarusian capital Minsk to close the weekly Nasha Niva, one of the country’s last independent newspapers. Local and international media reported that city officials informed Editor-in-chief Andrei Dynko that they did not want his paper based in Minsk because he had spent 10 days in prison for assisting demonstrators protesting against President Aleksandr Lukashenko.

Antigovernment protests broke out after Lukashenko’s re-election on March 19 in polls that foreign monitors called deeply flawed.

“President Lukashenko’s harassment of the media continues to undermine his political legitimacy,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We call on President Lukashenko and the authorities in Minsk to stop their harassment of Nasha Niva and all other independent newspapers.”

Media reported that the Ideological Department of the Minsk City Executive Committee informed Nasha Niva in an April 10 letter that it had withdrawn permission for the paper to have a legally registered address in the capital. The letter said the Committee did not “consider it expedient to have the newspaper based in Minsk” because of Dynko’s arrest and imprisonment.

Dynko told journalists today that the Executive Committee’s ruling was a politically-motivated “legal absurdity,” the independent news agency Belapan reported. The Belarusian Association of Journalists called the decision “illegal” and said it feared that authorities would use the ruling to close down the weekly.

At the beginning of the year, authorities prohibited state-run newsstands from selling Nasha Niva and the post office refused to deliver the newspaper to subscribers.

Authorities cracked down on the independent media in the months ahead of the March election and jailed more than two dozen journalists during anti-government demonstrations after the vote.