8 August 2002
Authorities target two more independent newspapers
(RSF/IFEX) - RSF has voiced its utmost concern about the fate of the independent press in Belarus. On 2 August 2002, the Minsk independent daily "Nasha Svoboda" received a fine that threatens its survival and authorities continue with plans to prosecute the independent newspaper "Rabochy". These moves follow the jail sentences imposed in June on the editor and a journalist of the Grodno opposition newspaper "Pagonya".
"The government succeeded in getting rid of 'Pagonya' and now pursues its masquerade of justice by attacking 'Nasha Svoboda' and 'Rabochy'," RSF Secretary-General Robert Ménard said in a letter to Information Minister Mikhail Podgainy. "We ask you to drop all these abusive proceedings against independent newspapers. We also ask you to modify the penal code in order to eliminate prison sentences for defamation, in particular Article 367/2 concerning defamation of the President of the Republic."
On 2 August, journalist Mikhail Podolyak and his newspaper, "Nasha Svoboda", were sentenced to fines of 15 million and 100 million Belarusian rubles (approximately US$8,260 and US$55,100) respectively for libelling Anatoly Tozik, president of the State Control Committee. On 1 August, the day before the trial started, authorities seized "Nasha Svoboda"'s computers.
Meanwhile, "Rabochy" editor Viktor Ivaskevich faces a possible five-year jail sentence when he comes to trial on 11 September for allegedly defaming President Alexander Lukashenko under Article 367/2 of the penal code in an article that appeared in a special elections issue in summer 2001. As a result of the article, entitled "A thief belongs in prison", 40,000 copies of the special issue were confiscated.
RSF notes that on 24 June, "Pagonya" editor Nikolay Markevitch and one of the newspaper's journalists, Pavel Majeyko, were sentenced to hard labour for allegedly defaming President Lukashenko. Their appeal is due to be heard on 15 August.