14 May 1999


Claims of six independent newspapers rejected

Incident details

legal action

(GDF/IFEX) - GDF is concerned about new freedom of expression violations in
Belarus. On 13 May 1999, the Judicial College of the Supreme Economic Court
of Belarus rejected the claims of six independent Belarussian newspapers to
the State Press Committee, seeking to revoke the warnings issued to these
newspapers for publishing information on the opposition presidential
election, which was organised by members of the Thirteenth Supreme Soviet.
The State Press Committee views this information as an incitement to
overthrow the state.

**Updates IFEX alerts of 13 May, 19 April, 16 March and 18 February 1999**

The course of the proceedings gives reason to doubt the court's impartiality
and objectivity. A decision was made to review the newspapers' claims as one
case, against the plaintiffs' wishes and existing procedural norms.
Information concerning this and the date of hearings was sent by fax and
received by editorial boards only one day before the proceedings. The
newspapers' lawyers were absent or engaged with other cases. By that time,
the newspapers-plaintiffs had, in proper time, sent appeals to the Supreme
Economic Court to adjourn the cases' hearing and concerning their objections
to the claims being consolidated, since the Economic Procedural Code of
Belarus does not stipulate consolidation of cases in such circumstances. The
grounds for the newspapers' claims were different, as were the arguments
substantiating their demands. Moreover, political and linguistic expert
examinations have already been scheduled, in relation to the claims of
several newspapers, in order to find out whether the published materials
contain incitements to seize power.

The court rejected the plaintiffs' appeals for adjourning the hearings and
examined the case, despite the fact that the newspapers' representatives
were not present in the courtroom, thereby breaking the provision of Article
62 of the Belarussian Constitution, which guarantees the right of everyone
to receive legal support for exercise and protection of his or her rights
and freedoms, and the provision of Article 115 stipulating that the rule of
law is based on the equality of the litigants.

The Judicial College headed by V. V. Boiko, Chairman of the Supreme Economic
Court, examined a difficult case (the College itself noted this in the
ruling on consolidating the cases) in an hour and the plaintiffs' arguments,
which were stated in their claims and appeals, were not considered at all.
In addition, the court did not consider carrying out an expert examination,
although this was urged by both the plaintiffs and the defendant.

All the newspapers' claims were rejected. The warnings of the State Press
Committee, practically accusing the newspapers of grave state crimes, remain
valid. This means that according to Belarussian media legislation, the next
warning may result in the closure of each of the newspapers.

Recommended Action

Send appeals to authorities:

  • expressing the view that a such hasty trial indicates that pressure upon
    the independent press has been strengthened even further and puts into doubt
    the possibility for newspapers to defend their legal rights and interests in
    courts of the Republic of Belarus

    Appeals To

    Alexander Lukashenko,
    President of the Republic of Belarus
    Office of the President
    Minsk 220020
    Fax: +375 172 23 58 25

    Mary Robinson
    Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
    Office 148
    United Nations
    Palais des Nations
    8-14 Avenue de la Paix
    12-11 Geneva 10,
    Fax: +41 22 917 02 45

    Please copy appeals to the source if possible.

  • Source


    IFEX members working in this country 1

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