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Belarus April 21 , 2005
H.E. Aleksandr G. Lukashenko
Administration of the President
Minsk 220030 K Marx Street, 38
Republic of Belarus
Fax: (011.375.17.2) 26-10-06
The members of the Overseas Press Club of America (OPC) continue to be outraged by the efforts of your government to silence independent journalism in your country. For the past 65 years, our non-partisan organization has fought for the right of journalists throughout the world to be free to keep the public informed.
During March, 2005, several cases of press intimidation and harassment in Belarus have come to our attention. Included are:
• Andrei Pochobut, a journalist for the Pahonia on-line news site, was sentenced to 10 days in prison on March 4, allegedly for “participating in an unauthorized demonstration.” However, Pochobut was present in his capacity as a reporter. According to Belarus ‘ press law, journalists have the right to cover public meetings and are supposed to have the freedom to keep the public informed.
• On March 11, a court ordered the seizure of the personal possessions of Pressbol editor, Vladimir Berechkov, to cover the fine imposed on the paper for libeling the finance minister. Among the items seized were Berechkov’s vacuum cleaner, electric kettle and washing machine. This is just one further stage in the government’s campaign to silence Pressbol, a national daily and one of the few independent newspapers left in Belarus .
• Several journalists with independent news media were refused access to polling stations in the western city of Grodno, which on March 20 held partial legislative elections. Prevented from covering the elections were Aliona Andrejeva , of the independent weekly, Zhoda, and Andrei Mialeshka of Express Noviny. Three Polish journalists were detained for several hours and finally able to return home only with help from diplomats.
• In an action designed to restrict freedom of expression, on March 18, the state-run Internet access provider Belpak shut down the Grodnensky Forum, which hosted a number of discussions critical of the policies of Your Excellency. The forum’s administrator had been forced to resign a week earlier, because of the political nature of the forum.
• Four computers and printing equipment were confiscated from the independent weekly, Zhoda, in Minsk , on March 24. The plainclothes KGB agents, accompanied by police officers, had no warrant and described themselves as a “group of investigators.” The KGB agent in charge said that “the newspaper was regarded as subversive and against the president,” according to Reporters Without Borders. The paper’s editor, Alexei Karol, said that he was certain that the KGB officer was referring to interviews with opposition members that the paper had published. Zhoda had been closed by the information ministry from February 5 to March 5, and may not be able to bring out future issues unless it has the equipment that was seized.
Your Excellency, actions such as these should not occur in a modern state. We urge Your Excellency to take every step to insure that Belarus has a free and independent press, and to cease your government’s efforts to silence journalists critical of your administration.
Norman A. Schorr
Co-chairmen, Freedom of the Press Committee
Office of the Prime Minister
House of Government
Minsk 220010 Independence Square
Republic of Belarus
Fax: (011.375.17.2) 29-66-65
Ambassador of Belarus to the U.S.A.
Embassy of the Republic of Belarus
1619 New Hampshire Avenue, NW
Washington , DC 20009
Fax: (202) 986-1805
Acting Permanent Representative
Permanent Mission of the Republic of Belarus
to the United Nations
136 East 67 th Street
New York , NY 10021
Fax: (212) 734-4810
George A. Krol
U.S. Ambassador to Belarus
Embassy of the United States of America
46 Starovilenskaya St .
Fax: (011.375.17.2) 34-78-53