(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - In an 18 October 2000 letter to President Aleksandr Lukashenko, ARTICLE 19 expressed its great concern over the seizure of the printing press and other vital equipment used by the Magic Publishing House in Minsk to print several of the main opposition newspapers in Belarus.
According to ARTICLE 19's information, at 1:30 p.m. (local time) on 16 October, two plain-clothes tax inspectors arrived at the offices of the independent printing press Magic and seized equipment used for printing some twenty independent newspapers, including nation-wide outlets "Narodnaya Volya", "Belaruskaya Delovaya Gazeta", "Rabochy", "Nasha Svaboda" and "Femida-Nova". The tax inspectors claimed that the equipment belonged to the Soros Foundation, which ceased activity in Belarus several years ago. According to the tax inspectors, the Soros Foundation owes the government US$78,000 and the equipment has been seized from Magic in order to offset this debt.
However, this appears to be merely the latest incident in a series of arbitrary actions by President Lukashenko's government against the independent publishing house. On 13 September, the company's offices were raided, and owner and president Yuriy Budzko was charged with
"propagandising an electoral boycott". During the raid, copies of the independent newspaper
"Rabochy" were seized and its editor, Viktar Ivashkevich, arrested. In addition, Magic's bank accounts were frozen on 11 October. The timing of this most recent incident seems to be no coincidence coming the day after parliamentary elections in Belarus which were described by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) as falling "far short of meeting the minimum commitments for free, fair, equal, accountable, and transparent elections".
Send appeals to the president:
- condemning the use of such tactics to inhibit the operations of one of the few independent publishing houses in Belarus, regardless of the tax situation currently being investigated
- calling upon him to ensure the return of the printing press and related equipment used by Magic to publish independent newspapers
- suggesting that the confiscation by the government of equipment vital to the operation of a free and independent press only serves to reinforce the impression of the international community that, under current conditions in Belarus, it is almost impossible to hold truly free and fair elections
H.E. Aleksandr Lukashenko
Office of the President
Fax: +375 17 226 0610
Please copy appeals to the source if possible.