Belarusian Opposition Daily Sued For Libel

Prague, 17 May 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Belarus's Information Ministry has issued a warning to the only opposition daily, "Narodnaya volya," which is the second warning received by the newspaper this year, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported yesterday.

Two official warnings issued to a publication within a year are sufficient for the authorities to close it.

The ministry said the daily released false information by publishing the names of five people under a manifesto of the opposition movement Will of the People, which was launched in February.

Simultaneously, the five people in question have sued the daily for libel, saying they did not sign the manifesto and demanding a total of 250 million Belarusian rubles ($116,000) in damages from the newspaper.

"Narodnaya volya" Editor in Chief Iosif Syaredzich told RFE/RL that the ministry effectively assumed the prerogative of a court by denying his newspaper a chance to publish a correction provided that it made a mistake, an option allowed by the media law.

Meanwhile, Will of the People leader Alyaksandr Kazulin suggested that the authorities might have resorted to pressure to make the five people revoke their signatures. "People supporting [our manifesto] are pressured to withdraw their signatures by way of threats and blackmail," Kazulin said.