The International Federation of Journalists today condemned the decision of the state-owned newspaper distribution company, Belposhta, to cease distribution of privately owned papers during the Presidential election year.
Belposhta, which has a monopoly on distribution, will stop publishing the papers from January 2006, which will prevent coverage of the election set for July.
“This is part of a cynical and ruthless campaign to silence independent voices in the run up to Presidential elections,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “The Belarus Authorities are abusing their monopoly over the distribution system to close down what remains of Belarusian independent media.”
Independent Belarusian media have been surviving on a knife edge for years as they struggle against a litany of arbitrary closures, punitive fines, harassment and intimidation of journalists. In recent weeks the pressure on media has increased alarmingly.
At the end of September the state printing house cancelled its contract to publish the independent daily Narodnaya Vola, forcing it to move to a printer in neighbouring Russia.
Two weeks later, on 18 October, Vasil Hrodnikau, a freelance correspondent for the i was found dead in his house in Minsk. He died of a traumatic brain injury. His brother told media that Vasil Hrodnikau had been constantly harassed by the authorities over the past year and that he believed he was killed for his criticisms of the President Lukashenko.
Last October, freelance journalist Veronika Charkasova was stabbed to death in her apartment. She had been investigating alleged arms sales between Belarus and Iraq.
The list of media to be excluded from the state distribution system includes the Narodnaya Vola, Salidarnasc, Zhoda, BDG. Delovaya Gazieta, Rehijanalnya Gazeta and a range of regional non-governmental social and political periodical editions.
Some of the newspapers received letters informing them that due to violations of their contracts, their distribution agreements would not be renewed. Others only discovered they had been removed from the list when the Belphosta published its subscription catalogue for 2006.
“The Belarus Association of Journalists has called on journalists and media groups around the world to come to their aid,” said Arne Konig, Chair of the European Federation of Journalists. “We urge all journalists groups to send messages of support to the BAJ and protest statements to the Belarus authorities.”
The BAJ was awarded the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize in 2004 for defense of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Protests should be sent to the following:
President Lukashenko, fax: (+375 17) 226-06-10)
The Council of Ministers of the Republic of Belarus, fax: (+375 17) 222-66-65)
The Ministry of Communication and Information of the Republic of Belarus,
fax: (+375 17) 227-21-57)
The “Belposhta” Republican Unitary Enterprise, fax: (+375 17) 226-11-70).
Copies can also be sent to the Belarusian Association of Journalists
phone/fax: (+375 17) 203-63-66, 226-70-98).