Ivashkevich, editor-in-chief of the independent newspaper Rabochy, was convicted by a court in the capital, Minsk, of libeling President Aleksandr Lukashenko and sentenced to two years’ hard labor. Under Belarus’ Criminal Code, libeling the president is punishable by up to five years in prison.
The case stemmed from an article in a special August 2001 issue of the newspaper titled “A Thief Belongs in Prison,” which accused Lukashenko’s administration of corruption. Rabochy’s special issue never reached its readers because prosecutors seized 40,000 copies of it and submitted them as evidence in the case.
A Minsk District Prosecutor’s Office charged Ivashkevich with criminal libel almost a year later, on June 20, 2002.
The journalist’s trial began on September 11, 2002, and he was convicted five days later, on September 16. Ivashkevich appealed the verdict, but on October 15, the Criminal Cases Collegium of the Minsk City Court upheld his sentence. In early December, prosecutors rejected a request by the journalist to serve his corrective labor in Minsk. On December 16, he left the capital for Baranovichy, a city 85 miles (136 kilometers) southwest of Minsk, where he is serving his term.
During a 10-day research mission to Belarus in the fall of 2002, CPJ met with Ivashkevich to discuss his case, his publication’s dire financial situation, and press freedom conditions in Belarus.