KGB and police seize independent weekly's computers

Reporters Without Borders today condemned the confiscation of four computers and printing equipment from the independent weekly Zhoda yesterday in Minsk by plain-clothes members of the Belarusian KGB and local police. The newspaper, which has a circulation of 5,000, is accused of illegally installing its offices in an apartment.

"The authorities are yet against using spurious arguments to stifle the few independent newspapers trying to survive in Belarus," the press freedom organization said. "Whatever the size of its circulation, the authorities will do everything possible to ensure that a newspaper disappears if they decide it is subversive."

Reporters Without Borders added : "We are concerned about the constant deterioration in press freedom in Belarus and we point out that President Alexander Lukashenko is on our worldwide list of predators of press freedom."

The KGB agents and police from Minsk's Parizansky district had no warrant and introduced themselves as a "group of investigators" when they arrived at 11 a.m. at the apartment that is used as the newspaper's office. After staying there for about three hours, they ordered the newspaper's editor, Alexei Karol, to report to the local police station.

"The plain-clothes KGB officer in charge, who refused to give his name, said the newspaper was regarded as subversive and against the president, and that he was acting on a complaint that had been brought against Zhoda," Karol said.

"I'm sure he was alluding to interviews with opposition members Alexander Kozuline and Andrei Klimov which we recently published," Karol said. The KGB officer also said the newspaper was "suspected of violating the economic legislation," he added.

The seizure of the four computers means the newspaper may be unable to bring out its next issue. Zhoda was already closed by the information ministry for a month, from 5 February to 5 March, on the grounds that its registered address was different from the one being used to the journalists to produce the newspaper.