28 October 1997


State censorship could return to Belarus, seminar warns

Incident details


(IFJ/IFEX) - Journalists from sixteen countries participating in
an IFJ/Council of Europe seminar in Minsk called on the upper
house of the Belarusian Parliament and on President Alexander
Lukashenko not to adopt amendments to the media law agreed by the
lower house.

**For background on amendments to press law, see IFEX alerts
dated 16 October, 2 July and 27 June 1997**

In support of their Belarusian colleagues, journalists from the
Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and Baltic countries
warned that the new amendments would give the government's State
Press Committee too much control over the media.

As currently drafted, the amendments would give the State Press
Committee the power to suspend registration of periodicals,
impose fines on media, decide which international publications
can be distributed in Belarus and determine the accreditation of
foreign media employees in the country. The amendments also
establish restrictive libel provisions, especially on slander
against the President.

"If the amendments are adopted, press freedom will suffer a great
setback in Belarus", said IFJ Deputy General Secretary Bettina

"The State Press Committee would yield powers usually exercised
only by courts. This combination of executive and judicial powers
in one government body is in contradiction to democratic
principles and can easily lead to state censorship."

A delegation of journalists from all sixteen countries
participating in the seminar will meet with President Lukashenko
on 29 October to raise their concerns over the law and to urge
the President not to sign the amendments. The delegation's visit
coincides with the upper house's vote on the amendments which
will take place on the same day.

Belarusian journalists reported at the seminar that press freedom
and independent journalism had been under pressure for some time.
There have been incidents of harassment and intimidation, of
journalists being forced to leave their posts and of some
journalists being temporarily detained.


International Federation of Journalists
International Press Centre, Residence Palace
Bloc C, second floor, Rue de la Loi, 155
1040 Brussels, Belgium

Fax:+ 32 2 2352219

IFEX members working in this country 1

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