Friday, 30 September 2005

Belarus independent daily shut

Written by Brussels journalist David Ferguson

The only independent daily in Belarus, accounting for 65 per cent of non-governmental print media circulation, is set to go out of business on Monday 3 October. "I strongly believe that the closure of Narodnaya Volya would be a major setback in the development of the free press in Belarus and a great loss for Belarusian society. I have asked the authorities to do everything in their power to stop this from happening," said Miklos Haraszti, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media.

On 28 September, Narodnaya Volya received notifications from state newspaper distributors Belsoyzpechat and Mingorsoyzpechat, as well as from the publishing house Krasnaya Zvezda, informing the independent daily that contracts had unilaterally been cancelled. Reasons cited by the state monopolies included claims that Narodnaya Volya had violated Belarus laws, lack of public demand for the newspaper and an outstanding payment of ?1000.

The closure of Narodnaya Volya follows the payment of 85 per cent of a 100,000,000 Belarusian roubles fine (?38,000 Euros). Narodnaya Volya. The monies had been collected from read following an appeal by the daily. The fine was established by the Leninski City District court of Minsk on 14 June 2005 as compensation to Liberal Democrat leader Siarhiej Hajdukievich. Narodnaya Volya had suggested that Hajdukievich may have been involved in attempts to profit from oil quotas provided by Saddam Hussein.

"I view this development as unprecedented in the OSCE region," OSCE Media Representative Haraszti wrote both to Belarus Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov and Information Minister Vladimir Rusakevich. "If this happens, Belarus will lose two-thirds of its independent press, its only independent daily."