23 August 2005

City officials kill off independent weekly Den

Reporters Without Borders today condemned the action of Minsk city officials in striking Denpress, publisher of the independent weekly Den, from the list of registered companies on the grounds that it "interrupted its commercial activities for six months without giving any explanation to the tax office."

The move means that a hitherto de facto ban on Den, enforced by means of police seizure of its copies, now has a legal basis, the press freedom organisation said.

"The Belarusian authorities have gone all out to sabotage the independent press," Reporters Without Borders said. "They always find a pretext for silencing dissident voices. The situation is Belarus is very worrying, with some 20 independent publications forced to close in less than two years."

Denpress chief executive Mikolai Markevich, who was notified of the decision on 19 August, said it was politically motivated and was done in order to kill off the newspaper. "Neither the real facts nor the law justify this decision," he said. "We published an issue of Den on 26 May but it was confiscated by the authorities." He said he would appeal.

31 May 2005 Police again seize independent daily Den as authorities continue to undermine press freedom

Police again seized all the copies of independent weekly Den, when after a year off the streets, it made a new attempt to publish on 26 May 2005.

"Press freedom is still being completely trampled on in President Alexander Lukashenko's country. He has clearly made no effort to attempt to remedy the steep deterioration in the working conditions of journalists who are not in thrall to the government", said Reporters Without Borders. "He does not appear ready to give up his place on the organisation's list of "predators" of press freedom", it added.

Police on 26 May seized 1,990 copies of the weekly based in Grodno, west of the country, in the town of Dubrownya, around 30 kilometres from the border with Russia, as the truck loaded with the papers was making the journey from its printers in Smolensk, Russia. They said they needed to check that the newspaper had been printed legally.

Den's editor, Mikalai Markevich, told the Reporters Without Borders correspondent that a "reliable source" had said the seizure had been orchestrated by the Grodno department of the State Security Committee (KGB) to prevent the weekly from reappearing for the first time since 2 June 2004.

Four days beforehand the management of the Smolensk print works received a letter from deputy information minister Liliya Ananich, instructing them that the paper should not be printed on the pretext that its new address had not been notified to the authorities. The editor had then tried unsuccessfully to meet the minister. She asked him to give his reasons in an official letter.

The deputy minister's letter forced the printers to break its contract with the weekly until she decided to lift the ban. The editor described the injunction as "state terrorism" against press freedom.

Under the law, a newspaper has to register its new address with the information ministry once it has been registered with the local authorities,

Den recently changed its address in Minsk and asked the town's executive committee to register it on 18 April 2005, but these authorities deliberately held it up.

Markevich lodged a request with the information ministry in which he described the police seizure of copies of his weekly as an unacceptable obstacle to the legal process of regularising his newspaper and asked the minister to withdraw the ban on printing.

Den was regularly persecuted by the authorities during 2004, until publication was halted on 2 June that year.

In one instance, in May 2004, KGB officers seized four of its computers on the pretext that the weekly had printed insulting verses about President Lukashenko.

Den is published by the former editorial management of Pahonya, a weekly the authorities closed in 2001. Markevich, who was also editor of that paper, was sentenced to 18 months hard labour for publishing an article in which he accused the president of involvement in the disappearance of political opponents. Pavel Mazheika, another member of the Pahonya team, was sentenced to one year hard labour for "insulting" President Lukashenko.

The authorities in Belarus can thus clearly be seen as well practised in the systematic harassment of this dogged editorial team.