13 May 1999


CPJ concerned about court decision

Incident details


(CPJ/IFEX) - CPJ is troubled to learn that the Supreme Economic Court of
Belarus rejected the appeal filed by the independent newspaper "Svobodnie
Novosti" seeking to overturn an official warning it received in February
1999. The warning by the State Press Committee, which was also issued to six
other newspapers, forbade the newspaper from publishing an announcement of
the opposition presidential elections, which are in progress from 6 to 16
May 1999. CPJ views these warnings as an attempt by the government of
President Alexander Lukashenko to control the flow of information reaching
the public.

**Updates IFEX alerts of 19 April, 16 March and 18 February 1999**

On 7 May, Justice Susla of the Supreme Economic Court of Belarus upheld the
warning issued by the State Press Committee. A second warning would result
in the forced closure of the newspaper.

The court's decision is particularly disturbing in light of the fact that on
13 May, the same court will hear the appeals of six other independent
newspapers which received the same warning. The decision to review the six
appeals as one case was made on 10 May by V. Boiko, chairman of the Supreme
Economic Court, who will oversee the hearing. The six newspapers are
"Belarusskaya Delovaya Gazeta", "Naviny", "Narodnya Volya", "Pahony",
"Imya", and "Zgoda".

These appeal cases stem from a 15 February press conference at which Michael
Podgainy, chairman of the State Press Committee, announced that the press
committee had issued official warnings to the above-mentioned independent
newspapers for publishing the opposition Central Electoral Commission's
announcement that, in accordance with the 1994 Constitution, presidential
elections would be held on 16 May.

In his official warning, Podgainy stated that the newspapers' coverage of
the opposition presidential elections amounts to inciting the overthrow of
the state. The elections have been organized by former members of the 13th
Supreme Soviet, which President Lukashenko disbanded in 1996, following a
referendum for the acceptance of a new constitution. This process, on the
basis of which the 1996 Constitution (which extends Lukashenko's presidency
to 2001) was accepted and the 13th Supreme Soviet subsequently disbanded,
violated Belarus' rule of law as well as its procedural norms. These illegal
actions prompted an international outcry. Much of the international
community, including the United States, continues to view the 1994
Constitution as the legitimate constitution and the 13th Supreme Soviet as
the legitimate parliamentary body.

Recommended Action

Send appeals to the president:

  • condemning his government's attempts to threaten and censor independent
    newspapers in retaliation for fulfilling their professional duties of
    providing information to the public
    - strongly urging him to use the power of his office to revoke the State
    Press Committee's warnings and ensure the right of journalists to freely
    gather and disseminate information without fear of reprisal

    Appeals To

    His Excellency Alexander Lukashenko
    President of Belarus Republic
    Office of the President
    Minsk 220020
    Fax: +375 172 23 58 25
    E-mail: infogrp@president.gov.by

    Please copy appeals to the source if possible.

  • Source

    Committee to Protect Journalists
    330 7th Ave., 11th Floor
    New York, NY 10001
    info (@) cpj.org
    Fax:+1 212 4659568

    IFEX members working in this country 1

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