Stopp trakassering og arrestasjoner av fredlige demonstranter

President Alexander Lukashenko
Office of the President of the Republic of Belarus
Email:  contact@president.gov.by
Fax:  +375 17 226 06 10
13 July 2011

We, 38 undersigned organizations from 16 countries, condemn the continuing repressions against civil society in Belarus and the recent arrests of peaceful demonstrators. We call upon the Belarusian authorities immediately to stop harassment of those who exercise their rights to freedom of assembly and expression, release the demonstrators from prisons and stop preventive detentions of journalists, human rights defenders and civic and political activists.

In the past two months, civic activists have been organizing silent protests across Belarus. Hundreds of demonstrators have gathered on the streets across the country in order to protest peacefully against the deteriorating political and economic situation in Belarus. Since 15 June 2011, at least 1730 people have been arrested during the peaceful demonstrations in the country.

On 15 June 2011, at least 240 demonstrators, including several journalists, were detained by the Belarusian police, as several thousand individuals took part in a peaceful demonstration across Belarus. Police reportedly used violence against the demonstrators.

On 22 June 2011, over 460 people were arrested during another silent protest in Belarus. Minsk police detained 220 protesters, including several journalists, foreign nationals and David Emtestam, the first secretary of Swedish embassy in Belarus, who was later released. Many detainees were charged with disorderly conduct (Article 17.1 of the Code of Administrative Offences of the Republic of Belarus).

On 29 June 2011, the Belarusian riot police violently dispersed peaceful silent protests and arrested 250 demonstrators across the country.  Minsk protesters were detained by plain-clothes men, who did not present any police badges or other insignia. People were seized in the streets and dragged to prepared buses without number plates.   Following trials, most of the detainees were fined. Several demonstrators were sentenced to administrative detention from 9 to 15 days. Similar trials were held in the regions of Homel, Brest, Zhodzina and Salihorsk.

According to some of the defendants, the arrests and the trials were accompanied by multiple human rights violations by the police, including violence against peaceful protesters, lack of information on charges during the arrest and the absence of identification by police during protests.

Shortly after the demonstrations of 29 June, five activists and journalists reportedly received threats of arrest from unidentified individuals for possible participation in another peaceful silent protest in Minsk on 3 July 2011, on the Independence Day of Belarus. A civil activist received the same threats in Brest. Despite the threats, hundreds of people gathered in the streets of Minsk and several other cities. At least 310 peaceful protesters, including journalists, minors and a pregnant woman, were detained in different parts of Belarus, including Minsk (over 160 detained), Baranavichy, Homel, Hrodna, Mahiliou, Smaliavichy, Vitsebsk and Zhlobin. Police used teargas and pepper spray during the arrests, and used violence against peaceful demonstrators. More than 50 arrested protesters were brought to trial on administrative charges for disorderly conduct. Some were fined or sentenced to up to 15 days of administrative detention, while others are awaiting trial.

On 6 July 2011, more than 400 participants of silent protests, including at least 28 journalists, were arrested across the country, including in Minsk and in the regions of Brest, Homel, Hrodna, Mahiliou, and Vitsebsk. In several places the protesters were detained by plain-clothes individuals who did not identify themselves to the detainees. At least 150 detainees were brought to trial on administrative charges before 9 July 2011, most of them sentenced to up to 15 days of administrative detention.

Among the demonstrators given administrative detention over the last week were at least five human rights defenders: on 29 June 2011 Aliaksei Lapitski from Zhodzina was detained and sentenced to 5 days in prison; on 3 July 2011 Valery Shchukin from Minsk, Barys Bukhel from Mahiliou and Anatoli Paplauny from Homel were detained and sentenced to 5-, 7 days and 15 days of imprisonment respectively.

Harsh treatment of peaceful protesters and dispersal of demonstrations are clear violations of the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. These rights are guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Articles 19 and 21 respectively, to which Belarus is a party. We point out that under international legal standards, no restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and that are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order, the protection of public health or morals, or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

The right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are also established in the Belarusian Constitution, in Articles 33 and 35.

We, therefore, call upon the Belarusian authorities to:

• Immediately release all detained peaceful protesters, exercising their lawful right to freedom of expression and of assembly;
• Immediately discontinue the use of administrative charges against or illegitimate pretrial detention of peaceful demonstrators, human rights defenders and journalists;
• Ensure and respect the right to freedom of expression and of assembly to all  Belarusian citizens, including human rights defenders, civic activists and the political  opposition;
• Ensure that journalists are able fully to exercise their professional duties, including during  peaceful demonstrations;
• Ensure compliance with the recently adopted UN Human Rights Council Resolution on Belarus of 15 June 2011, which calls on the Belarusian government to stop harassment of civil society and ensure the right to freedom of assembly.

Undersigning organizations:
All-Ukrainian Youth NGO «Foundation of Regional Initiatives» (Ukraine)
Armenian Helsinki Association (Armenia)
Belarusian Human Rights House in exile in Vilnius, (Lithuania)
Belarusian Tribunal (Netherlands)
Center for Civil Liberties (Ukraine)
Civic Belarus (Czech Republic)
Civil Rights Defenders (Sweden)
CODAP Youth Resource Centre on Human Rights (Switzerland)
European Exchange (Germany)
Federation for Social Defence – BSV (Germany)
Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (Poland)
Human Rights Center «Postup»(Ukraine)

Human Rights House Baku (Azerbaijan) on behalf of the following NGOs):
– Human Rights Centre of Azerbaijan (AHRC)
– Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS)
– Legal Education Society
– Media Rights Institute

Human Rights House Oslo (Norway) (on behalf of the following NGOs):
– Health and Human Rights Info
– Human Rights House Foundation
– Norwegian Helsinki Committee
– Norwegian PEN

Human Rights House Tbilisi (Georgia) (on behalf of the following NGOs):
– The Human Rights Centre (HRIDC)
– Article 42 of the Constitution

Human Rights House Zagreb (Croatia) (on behalf of the following NGOs):
– APEO/UPIM – Association for Promotion of Equal Opportunities for People with Disabilities
– B.a.B.e.
– CMS – Centre for Peace Studies
– Documenta – Centre for Dealing with the Past
– GOLJP – Civic Committee for Human Rights
– Svitanje  – Association for Protection and Promotion of Mental Health

International Society for Human Rights (ISHR) (Germany)
International Youth Human Rights Movement, (Russian Federation)
Libereco – Partnership for Human Rights (Germany)
Netherlands Helsinki Committee (Netherlands)

Open Word House (United Kingdom) (on behalf of the following NGOs):
– Article 19
– Index on Censorship

People in Need (Czech Republic)
Promo-LEX Association (Republic of Moldova)

Russian Research Center for Human Rights (Russian Federation) (on behalf of the following NGOs):
– Moscow Helsinki Group

The Rafto Foundation for Human Rights (Norway)
Swiss German PEN Centre (Switzerland)
Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union (Ukraine )
Young European Federalists (Belgium)

Copies sent to:
• The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE ODIHR), Warsaw
• The Directorate General of Human Rights and Legal Affairs of the Council of Europe, Strasbourg
• Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Strasbourg
• UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, Geneva
• UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Geneva
• UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Geneva

Stop harassment and arrests of peaceful demonstrators

President Alexander Lukashenko
Office of the President of the Republic of Belarus
Email:  contact@president.gov.by
Fax:  +375 17 226 06 10
13 July 2011

 

We, 38 undersigned organizations from 16 countries, condemn the continuing repressions against civil society in Belarus and the recent arrests of peaceful demonstrators. We call upon the Belarusian authorities immediately to stop harassment of those who exercise their rights to freedom of assembly and expression, release the demonstrators from prisons and stop preventive detentions of journalists, human rights defenders and civic and political activists.

In the past two months, civic activists have been organizing silent protests across Belarus. Hundreds of demonstrators have gathered on the streets across the country in order to protest peacefully against the deteriorating political and economic situation in Belarus. Since 15 June 2011, at least 1730 people have been arrested during the peaceful demonstrations in the country.

On 15 June 2011, at least 240 demonstrators, including several journalists, were detained by the Belarusian police, as several thousand individuals took part in a peaceful demonstration across Belarus. Police reportedly used violence against the demonstrators.

On 22 June 2011, over 460 people were arrested during another silent protest in Belarus. Minsk police detained 220 protesters, including several journalists, foreign nationals and David Emtestam, the first secretary of Swedish embassy in Belarus, who was later released. Many detainees were charged with disorderly conduct (Article 17.1 of the Code of Administrative Offences of the Republic of Belarus).

On 29 June 2011, the Belarusian riot police violently dispersed peaceful silent protests and arrested 250 demonstrators across the country.  Minsk protesters were detained by plain-clothes men, who did not present any police badges or other insignia. People were seized in the streets and dragged to prepared buses without number plates.   Following trials, most of the detainees were fined. Several demonstrators were sentenced to administrative detention from 9 to 15 days. Similar trials were held in the regions of Homel, Brest, Zhodzina and Salihorsk.

According to some of the defendants, the arrests and the trials were accompanied by multiple human rights violations by the police, including violence against peaceful protesters, lack of information on charges during the arrest and the absence of identification by police during protests.

Shortly after the demonstrations of 29 June, five activists and journalists reportedly received threats of arrest from unidentified individuals for possible participation in another peaceful silent protest in Minsk on 3 July 2011, on the Independence Day of Belarus. A civil activist received the same threats in Brest. Despite the threats, hundreds of people gathered in the streets of Minsk and several other cities. At least 310 peaceful protesters, including journalists, minors and a pregnant woman, were detained in different parts of Belarus, including Minsk (over 160 detained), Baranavichy, Homel, Hrodna, Mahiliou, Smaliavichy, Vitsebsk and Zhlobin. Police used teargas and pepper spray during the arrests, and used violence against peaceful demonstrators. More than 50 arrested protesters were brought to trial on administrative charges for disorderly conduct. Some were fined or sentenced to up to 15 days of administrative detention, while others are awaiting trial.

On 6 July 2011, more than 400 participants of silent protests, including at least 28 journalists, were arrested across the country, including in Minsk and in the regions of Brest, Homel, Hrodna, Mahiliou, and Vitsebsk. In several places the protesters were detained by plain-clothes individuals who did not identify themselves to the detainees. At least 150 detainees were brought to trial on administrative charges before 9 July 2011, most of them sentenced to up to 15 days of administrative detention.

Among the demonstrators given administrative detention over the last week were at least five human rights defenders: on 29 June 2011 Aliaksei Lapitski from Zhodzina was detained and sentenced to 5 days in prison; on 3 July 2011 Valery Shchukin from Minsk, Barys Bukhel from Mahiliou and Anatoli Paplauny from Homel were detained and sentenced to 5-, 7 days and 15 days of imprisonment respectively.

Harsh treatment of peaceful protesters and dispersal of demonstrations are clear violations of the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. These rights are guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Articles 19 and 21 respectively, to which Belarus is a party. We point out that under international legal standards, no restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and that are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order, the protection of public health or morals, or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

The right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are also established in the Belarusian Constitution, in Articles 33 and 35.

We, therefore, call upon the Belarusian authorities to:

• Immediately release all detained peaceful protesters, exercising their lawful right to freedom of expression and of assembly;
• Immediately discontinue the use of administrative charges against or illegitimate pretrial detention of peaceful demonstrators, human rights defenders and journalists;
• Ensure and respect the right to freedom of expression and of assembly to all  Belarusian citizens, including human rights defenders, civic activists and the political  opposition;
• Ensure that journalists are able fully to exercise their professional duties, including during  peaceful demonstrations;
• Ensure compliance with the recently adopted UN Human Rights Council Resolution on Belarus of 15 June 2011, which calls on the Belarusian government to stop harassment of civil society and ensure the right to freedom of assembly.

Undersigning organizations:
All-Ukrainian Youth NGO «Foundation of Regional Initiatives» (Ukraine)
Armenian Helsinki Association (Armenia)
Belarusian Human Rights House in exile in Vilnius, (Lithuania)
Belarusian Tribunal (Netherlands)
Center for Civil Liberties (Ukraine)
Civic Belarus (Czech Republic)
Civil Rights Defenders (Sweden)
CODAP Youth Resource Centre on Human Rights (Switzerland)
European Exchange (Germany)
Federation for Social Defence – BSV (Germany)
Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (Poland)
Human Rights Center «Postup»(Ukraine)

Human Rights House Baku (Azerbaijan) on behalf of the following NGOs):
– Human Rights Centre of Azerbaijan (AHRC)
– Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS)
– Legal Education Society
– Media Rights Institute

Human Rights House Oslo (Norway) (on behalf of the following NGOs):
– Health and Human Rights Info
– Human Rights House Foundation
– Norwegian Helsinki Committee
– Norwegian PEN

Human Rights House Tbilisi (Georgia) (on behalf of the following NGOs):
– The Human Rights Centre (HRIDC)
– Article 42 of the Constitution

Human Rights House Zagreb (Croatia) (on behalf of the following NGOs):
– APEO/UPIM – Association for Promotion of Equal Opportunities for People with Disabilities
– B.a.B.e.
– CMS – Centre for Peace Studies
– Documenta – Centre for Dealing with the Past
– GOLJP – Civic Committee for Human Rights
– Svitanje  – Association for Protection and Promotion of Mental Health

International Society for Human Rights (ISHR) (Germany)
International Youth Human Rights Movement, (Russian Federation)
Libereco – Partnership for Human Rights (Germany)
Netherlands Helsinki Committee (Netherlands)

Open Word House (United Kingdom) (on behalf of the following NGOs):
– Article 19
– Index on Censorship

People in Need (Czech Republic)
Promo-LEX Association (Republic of Moldova)

Russian Research Center for Human Rights (Russian Federation) (on behalf of the following NGOs):
– Moscow Helsinki Group

The Rafto Foundation for Human Rights (Norway)
Swiss German PEN Centre (Switzerland)
Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union (Ukraine )
Young European Federalists (Belgium)

Copies sent to:
• The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE ODIHR), Warsaw
• The Directorate General of Human Rights and Legal Affairs of the Council of Europe, Strasbourg
• Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Strasbourg
• UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, Geneva
• UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Geneva
• UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Geneva

2011: Belarus: Vladimir Neklyaev

10th January 2011

President of the Republic of Belarus
Alyaksandr G. Lukashenka
Karl Marx Str. 38
220016 g. Minsk
Belarus

Dear  President

Writer and former Belarusian PEN President, Vladimir Neklyaev, arrested and beaten

PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee is shocked by yesterday’s (19 December 2010) arrest and beating of Vladimir Neklyaev, writer, former President of the Belarusian PEN Centre, and Belarus presidential elections candidate. His present whereabouts are unknown and there is deep concern for his well being. The Belarusian PEN Centre has issued an appeal, below. PEN calls for the immediate disclosure of Neklyaev’s whereabouts and that he be released. It further calls for him to receive all necessary medical treatment as a matter of urgency.

Statement by the Belarusian PEN Centre Council

The Belarusian  PEN Centre strongly condemns acts of violence against the honorary chairman of the Belarusian PEN Centre and presidential candidate Vladimir Neklyaev.

On the evening of 19 December he was brutally beaten by security services (doctors later diagnosed brain injury). Unconscious, Vladimir Neklyaev was taken to hospital from where he was kidnapped a few hours later by unknown persons. The present whereabouts of Neklyaev is unknown.

The Belarusian PEN Centre demands an urgent determination of Neklyaev’s fate and for guarantees that he is receiving full qualified medical care. We demand an investigation of the beatings and abduction against the honorary chairman of Belarusian PEN Centre.

We appeal to Belarusian and international human rights organizations, PEN International and the national PEN centers to join our calls for

Yours sincerely

Annaguli Yildam,
Member of Norwegian PEN, WiPC

2011: Belarus: PEN-members arrested

President of the Republic of Belarus
Alyaksandr G. Lukashenka
Karl Marx Str. 38
220016 g. Minsk
Belarus

Oslo, 7th January 2011

Dear President

Neklyaev held in KGB detention centre; many more writers and journalists arrested.

PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee is increasingly alarmed by the 19 December 2010 mass arrests of demonstrators, among them writers and journalists, including members of the Belarus PEN Centre. It calls for an immediate end to the arrests, the release of all those who are held for their legitimate rights to peaceful protest and freedom of expression, and a full and proper investigation into reports of ill-treatment.

Yours sincerely

Annaguli Yildam,
Member of Norwegian PEN, WiPC

2010: Belarus: Vladimir Neklyayev

June 3rd 2010

President Mr. Alyaksandr Lukashenka
220016, ul. Karla Marxa 38, Minsk
Belarus

e-mail: pres@president.gov.by

Your excellency,

Writer Vladimir Neklyayev

The Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of PEN International deeply deplores the arrest of writer Vladimir Neklyayev, among scores of other members of civil society groups. WiPC considers the arrests to be in clear violation of the right to freedom of expression and association and we strongly call for their release.

Mr Neklyayev is the leader of the organisation Speak the Truth and was the President of the Belarus PEN Centre from 2005-2009. The police is reported to have cracked down of the homes of members of peaceful society groups in several cities across the country, including the Speak the Truth office in Minsk.

We are very worried about the detentions of Vladimir Neklyayev, Sergei Voznyak and Andrei Dmitriyev and strongly appeal to Your Excellency to end the arrest of these and other writers and journalists who are held in violation of their rights and an end to further harassment and attacks on the independent media.

We would like to point out that the prosecution of these individuals are in direct violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Belarus is a signatory.

Yours sincerely

Aase Gjerdrum
member, Writers in Prison Committee of Norwegian PEN

Fellesuttalelse om angrep på demonstranter i Minsk

27 March 2008
President Mr. Alyaksandr Lukashenka
220016, ul. Karla Marxa 38, Minsk
Fax: +375 172 26 06 10 / +375 172 22 38 72

The General Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of Belarus
Mr Miklashevich P.P.
220050 Internacionalnaja 22, Minsk
Tel. +375 17 2264360
+375 17 2264360

The Ministry for Internal Affairs
Mr Naimov, V.V
220050 ul. Gorodskoi Val. 4, Minsk

The Human Rights House Foundation, the Rafto Foundation, Norwegian PEN, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee and The Norwegian Union of Journalist condemn the arrests and brutal attacks by riot police of peaceful demonstrators in Minsk. Andrej Liankevich, photojournalist of Nasha Niva was brutally beaten and arrested by riot police on 25 March. We especially condemn the arrests of journalists covering the event, and the ongoing harassment of independent media and individual journalists.

On 25 March thousands of Belarusians came to take part in a peaceful demonstration in Minsk dedicated to the 90th anniversary of Belarusian Democratic Republic. The riot police used brutal force against the peaceful participants. More than 100 were detained. Among them were correspondents from Lithuania and citizens from Poland and Ukraine.

The photojournalist Andrej Liankevich´s case was submitted to the judge Alena Lapceva of the Zavadskoj district, Minsk. The trial started March 26, but case was returned to the Police Office (Savecki RUUS) by the judge “for completion the case with documents stating accusations” on March 27. Another journalist of Nasha Niva Sjamen Pechanko was arrested and sentenced to 15 days arrest by the Court of Maskouski City District, Minsk. They were both charged with violating the order of organizing and holding mass events (Art. 23.24 Code of the administrative offences).

The journalists were detained despite the fact that they were covering the rally. We regret that Belarusian state authorities do not recognize the role and the rights of journalists, who report from ongoing events in Belarus. We condemn the practice of the Belarusian judiciary, which do not acquit journalists, when it obvious that there is no legal basis for the cases.

After the demonstration on 25 March, 75 administrative cases were brought to court against the participants. According to the police reports, they were charged with violating the order of organizing and holding mass events, by participating in a demonstration, not authorized by Minsk authorities. As a result of the trials, 26 people were sentenced to short jail terms of 5-15 days, over 50 people were fined. 20 people were traumatized with different types of injuries caused by police violence. Activists Andrei Babitski, Zmister Dashkevich, Artur Finkevich and Mikita Shutsiankou were all severely beaten. Even an under age girl, Alena Makarevich,was severaly beaten in the Partyzanski police department.
We are very concerned to learn that today, 27 March, KGB started a countrywide search in the offices and apartments of independent mass media and their journalists. The searches are taking place in the apartments of the journalists Eduard Mielnikau, Anatol Hatochyts (Homiek), Alena Stsiapanava, (Vitsiebsk), Tamara Shchapiotkina (Biaroza), Hienadz Sudnik (Mahileu) as well as in the editorial office of Radio Racyja in Minsk.

The KGB representatives are presenting search orders, signed by legal investigators from Minsk City Public Prosecutor’s Office. According to the Belarusian Association of Media, it is stated in the orders that the searches are carried out with regards to breaches of article 367 of Belarus’ Criminal Code («Libel in Relation to the President of Belarus»). This action shows that the Belarusian state does not accept the existence of independent media and civil society and we consider this a grave violation of article 19 of the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. We fully support the efforts of the Belarusian Association of Journalists protecting journalists and defending the freedom of expression.

·    We urge Belarusian authorities to stop the current harassment of Belarusian media outlets and journalists.
·    We ask the Belarusian authorities to immediately release all citizens arrested during the peaceful demonstration.
·    We also urge the Belarusian authorities to start an independent investigation of the human rights violations and abuses of the police related to the Independence Day 25 of March 2008.

Sincerely

Maria Dahle
Executive Director
Human Rights House

Therese Jebsen
Executive Director
Rafto Foundation

Carl Morten Iversen
Secretary General
Norwegian PEN

Bjørn Engesland
Secretary General
Norwegian Helsinki Committee

Kjetil Haanes
Vice President
Norwegian Union of Journalists

Copies sent to:
Council of Europe, Strasbourg
OSCE office, Minsk
ODIHR, Warsaw
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway
Steering Committee on Foreign Affairs, Norwegian Parliament

Hviterussland, november 2007

Freedom of Expression in Belarus. Report from a joint mission: International Publishers Association, Norwegian Union of Journalists, Norwegian PEN

Contents

Introduction                                               p 3
Executive Summary                                   p 3
Political situation                                       p 4
Legal issues                                               p 5
Freedom of Expression                              p 6
Registration                                            p 6
Distribution                                             p 6
Language                                                p 7
Press freedom                                        p 8
Freedom to publish                                 p 9
Conclusion                                                   p 10
Recommendations                                      p 11
Appendixes                                                 p 12
1: Official data                                       p 12
2: The case of Andrei Klimov                p 12
3: The Regime creates its own Union of Writers    p 12
4: Concrete examples of implementation
of Article 10 of the Media Law                  p 13

Introduction

For years, international NGOs and press freedom organizations have been monitoring the situation of human rights in general and freedom of expression in particular in Belarus. Norwegian PEN sent a mission to Belarus (Minsk region) in February 2005. At that point, the different Nordic PEN-centres had already been engaged in Belarus since the mid-nineties. A report in Norwegian from this mission is available upon request.

Norwegian PEN applied for and received funding for a follow-up mission from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  The delegation, which visited Minsk and Hrodna in November 2007, represented Norwegian PEN, the Norwegian Union of Journalists and the International Publishers Association (IPA – Geneva).  This report was written by PEN and IPA and represents the views of the entire delegation.

Executive summary
Belarus has been labelled «the last dictatorship in Europe». Not all people we talked to during this mission condone this analysis. One interviewee said that «what is happening here is a national disaster, and most people seem to accept it».

The main issue is President Lukashenko’s control of the media. Through a number of different administrative initiatives, he makes certain that the view of the opposition never gets across to the majority of the people. Still the opposition, although ideologically split, fights back.

The Belarusian people are extremely tolerant and patient regarding the current political situation. The main two factors that may tip the situation in any direction are:

a. The possibilities for the opposition to actually cut through all State restrictions and get its political message across;

b. The great uncertainty regarding Belarusian economic development, and its effect on everyday life in Belarus.

Legislative changes, adopted without debate, are unfortunately not uncommon under the regime of President Lukashenko and their chilling effect on freedom of expression in Belarus is evident. The proposed law on Information Technology and the Protection of Information would also tend to prove that the authorities are preparing for control of the Internet.

The authorities stifle press freedom and freedom to publish through control of registration and distribution. Article 10 of the media law requires news media to register with the local authorities where their premises are located. Such registration may be denied or recalled at any time. The authorities also control all book- and newspaper-distribution through State bookstores and kiosks, as well as a national subscription system.

In addition to registration and distribution problems, the independent press in Belarus faces numerous challenges. These include fines for critical journalism, lack of state advertisements and restrictions on access to information. It is a strain on journalists to work for independent papers who are generally in a tight financial situation. With little or no training possibilities, independent media is not allowed to develop.

Freedom to publish books is hardly possible in Belarus. There are ten to twelve State Publishers in the country and only 5 – 6 private publishers. Of these only two have survived since 1997. The life expectancy of private Belarusian publishers is not very long. Under the current regime, with an arbitrary book publishing license system, the only solution available to publish a real oppositional book is to use a fake publisher’s identity.

Finally, President Lukashenko is against Belarusian culture and language. There seems to be a wide State project seeking to restrict it. Belarusian is also perceived by the authorities as the language of the opposition. If the current policy vis-à-vis Belarusian continues to prevail, one cannot be optimistic about the future of the Belarusian language.

Political situation

Belarus has often been labelled «the last dictatorship in Europe» by international political observers and analysts. Not all people we talked to in Belarus condone this analysis, including representatives of the opposition. Said one high profiled journalist representative: «I would not say that we live in a dictatorship. An autocratic regime, yes, but not a dictatorship». The President of PEN Belarus said he did not know whether to call Belarus a dictatorship or an autocratic regime, but “what is happening here is a national disaster, and most people seem to accept it”.

This last observation was repeated by many people we interviewed during the mission: Many people do not care, they are indifferent, they actually believe in Lukashenko. In a way, this is understandable, considering that Belarus is not in a state of chaos and most aspects of everyday life seem to function well. If society seems to function and nobody is starving, then why not let Lukashenko stay on?

Most people also believe elections are free and open. This situation would be close to unbelievable in any other country if the sitting President received 98% of the votes. Or if election results were obviously rigged, which was the case during the last elections for Parliament, where the results were available two weeks prior to the actual elections. Once the elections took place, President Lukashenko had already «appointed» all the new members of Parliament.

The main issue is President Lukashenko’s control of the media. Through a number of different initiatives, he makes certain that the view of the opposition never gets properly across to the majority of the people. 70% of the population still believes elections are open and transparent. Only about 25 – 30% supports the opposition, but as much as 30% of the population does not believe in political changes.

Still, the opposition fights back. Even though it has tried for years, even though the 10 opposition parties working together are split ideologically, they try to work together. When in Minsk, the delegation was informed about an ongoing conference in Vilnius where 60 regional leaders of the various Belarusian opposition parties were discussing common strategies prior to next year’s Parliamentary elections. The exact date for these elections has not yet been announced, but opposition parties will hardly accept another rigged election. One of the reasons for this is the fact that the opposition – standing together and nominating their candidates on one, joint list – have a better position vis-à-vis the electoral committee . Another is the increased use of the Internet, in particular by the younger generation which is growing increasingly tired of State propaganda.

Still, one important, uncertain factor may be essential: The Belarusian economy. When the delegation visited Belarus, the news about the U.S. freezing of Belarusian funds «broke». That is, people we talked to knew about this, but there was no official statement from the authorities and no news in the newspapers, not even in the State media.

The freezing of foreign investment is yet another nail in the «Belarusian financial coffin». Due to the complex relationship with Russia and the ongoing conflict with regards to oil- and gas prices, which has previously allowed for imports at very reasonable prices, Russian financial support is now drying up. This is dramatic because the Belarusian economy, according to opposition politician and former presidential candidate Alaksandar Milinkievic, is not in a good position as far as trade competition is concerned. The people’s dissatisfaction with Lukashenko’s financial regime is increasing. According to opposition figures we met with, the authorities recently scrapped all social benefits in order to balance the budget. Milinkievic says the primary challenge for the opposition is to make people understand that they can win through «peaceful street fights».  However, other opposition politicians we talked to would not use the term «peaceful», the bottom line being the fact that opposition candidates are unable to promote themselves in the media and change would therefore have to be brought about through more revolutionary methods.

Yet the Belarusian people are extremely tolerant and patient regarding the current political situation and too many simply do not care. The younger generation’s willingness to put up a real, political fight remains to be seen. At this point, therefore, the main two factors that may tip the situation in any direction are: a. The possibilities for the opposition to actually cut through all State restrictions and get its political message across, b. The great uncertainty regarding Belarusian economic development, and its effect on everyday life in Belarus.

Legal issues

Legislative changes, adopted without debate, are unfortunately not uncommon under the regime of President Lukashenko.

Articles 367 and 368 of the Belarusian Penal Code (BPC) were introduced in January 2001, in preparation for the 2001 presidential elections. Article 367 BPC criminalises defaming the President, while Article 368 BPC criminalises insulting the President. Defamation of the President can result in up to five years in prison. Other criminal defamation articles of the Penal Code include: Article 188 (spreading false information discrediting another person), Article 189 (deliberate degradation of the honour and dignity of an individual), and Article 369 (insult of a public official). Defamation and insult of ordinary citizens (Articles 188 & 189) can lead to imprisonment for up to two years .

The law “on entering amendments and changes to certain legislative acts of the Republic of Belarus on strengthening responsibility for the actions directed against human being and public safety” came into force on 2 January 2006 . It includes a series of amendments to the criminal code that further undermine freedom of expression. In particular, Article 369(1) now criminalises defamation of the Belarusian State.

Even more so than in a country like Turkey where similar provisions exist and are used to stifle freedom of expression, the chilling effect of these criminal defamation provisions on freedom of expression in Belarus is evident. These provisions, including those which came into force on 2. January 2006, violate international freedom of expression standards, in particular Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Belarus is a party to.

Use of civil defamation suits to silence non-State media is much more common . Article 5 of the civil code prohibits the publication of information damaging the honour or dignity of the President, as well as high-ranking officials, and can lead to the closure of a media outlet following the accumulation of two or more warnings.

Part of Article 10 of the media law requires news media to register with the local authorities where their premises are located. For some years, the authorities have been using this article to silence independent and opposition media by blocking their registration. For concrete examples of the implementation of Article 10, please see Appendix 4 on pp. 13-18. Clearly, some of the decisions are politically-motivated.

The proposed law on Information Technology and the Protection of Information, which proposes creating a system for registering all media, including online publications, is one of the disturbing legal developments of this year. Because of the lack of freedom of expression in the country, there is no real debate around this proposed piece of legislation. In August 2007, the Ministry of Information created a working group to look at the “Internet’s legal regulation” . It is not clear yet whether registration will be recommended or obligatory.

People we talked to had different views about the proposed new law. The bottom line probably is, like some young journalist from Hrodna put it, that «the State is preparing for control of the Internet». That may very well be, but as it turned out, even the editor of the most selling State newspaper «Sovietskaya Belorussiya» was very critical of the work preceding the new law. Said editor Pavel Yakubovich: «I think websites should be registered and all censorship abolished, but I fear the new law will be politically-biased». He was clearly not satisfied with the lawmaking process, claiming the lawmakers were unprofessional and not real legal experts. The result remains to be seen – so far there is not even a draft for a new law, so it is too early to discuss. Both Yakubovich and editor Anatol Lemyashonak of the State-controlled daily «Respublika» were interested in the new law and said they would actively debate it in their respective newspapers. Still, Belarus may soon be the only European country to join ranks with countries like China, Tunisia and Cuba where government control of the Internet is more or less total.  Until then, the Internet remains one of the few means to reach young people and to have open discussions about politics in Belarus.

Freedom of expression

Various forms of censorship in Belarus

There is no pre-publication censorship in Belarus. Yet everything published, aired or broadcast must be in line with “State ideology”. Belarus is one of the last countries in Europe with a State press. Vis-à-vis non-State press, censorship is indirect. Administrative and economic measures are used to stifle freedom of expression, as well as defamation cases. The authorities use more or less sophisticated administrative methods to control the press and stifle the opposition, the main two elements being registration and distribution.

Registration

All business-, NGO- and media-activity in Belarus must be okayed by the authorities through registration of such activity. As seen above, Article 10 of the media law requires news media to register with the local authorities where their premises are located. The outcome of this process is entirely up to the authorities. Registration may be denied or recalled at any time. Even though an appeal to the courts is an option, the outcome is seldom in favour of the plaintiff. Consequently, the authorities control the existence of all Belarusian NGOs, including the non-state journalist organization Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ). They may revoke the registration at any point, rendering the organization illegal or, in the worst case, obsolete. Authorities may also seize all assets, including buildings, office spaces and all goods in stock, as they did with the independent Union of Belarusian Writers, the oldest artist organization in the country. In 1997, President Lukashenko issued a decree, allowing for the confiscation of the unions office building in Minsk – including a 500 seat theatre for meetings and cultural events as well as all their printed material, values totalling more than 1.2 million Euros. Finally, in 2006, the Union was thrown out of its remaining offices. For more, see Appendix 3 on page 12.

One reason for being denied registration is the lack of a legal address. Since the authorities are in control of most of the office buildings in Minsk, an address may be very hard to obtain, unless one has a good relationship with these same authorities.

Without registration, it is not possible to operate. Lack of registration is therefore the main obstacle for the media, including book publishing. Without registration, you are not allowed to distribute books and newspapers and the authorities control the distribution.

Distribution

Books
There is a de facto State monopoly on the distribution of books through Belkniga. Belkniga is a State-owned Company, which operates bookshops and libraries throughout the country. The Director of Belkniga is appointed by the Ministry of Information. It is not uncommon for State bookshop directors to refuse to sell a book by one of the independent publishers (for e.g.: a book with the Belarusian flag on the cover).
There are also a few independent bookshops and a huge book market in Minsk, but it is very difficult to operate an independent bookshop successfully. Higher distribution costs than for official bookshops are one of the reasons why it is so difficult. In addition, Belarusians are used to cheap books since the Soviet era. As a result, it is nearly impossible for independent publishers and booksellers to increase book prices in order to make a profit. State publishers and official bookshops do not face a similar problem as they are subsidized by the government.

State bookshops are accused of favouring books in Russian, and as a consequence, books from Russia. This fact helps explain why the print runs of Belarusian publishers publishing in Belarusian are so small (maximum of 2’000 copies). For more on language, please see the “Language” section hereunder.

As a consequence of the de facto monopoly on distribution, the easiest way to reach the readers of independent books is not through bookshops. Writers and private publishers strive to organize private sales in order to be able to meet the readers. However, organizing such meetings is getting increasingly difficult as there are less and less spaces available. In Minsk, such meetings, where writers meet their readers, used to take place at the House of Literature where the Union of Writers was headquartered. Now such meetings are banned there. It is also getting increasingly difficult to access the Universities. Most premises belong to State Institutions. Under these circumstances, less convenient locations have to be found. Other alternative distribution channels include: several unofficial selling points throughout Minsk, some Internet websites etc.

Newspapers
The situation for newspaper distribution is much the same. The State controls the newspaper «kiosks» and vendors are reluctant to stock independent newspapers, though some may be found if you ask for them specifically. The State distribution system also controls how many copies you are allowed to sell, regardless of the actual demand. Consequently, some newspapers, like those owned by the Baranavichy Publishing House «Intex-press», have established their own distributions system. This also makes it possible for them to distribute their papers in small villages. But the system is costly and time-consuming.

In addition to retail, the State controls a subscription system through which newspapers are distributed by mail. The State can remove any newspaper from the subscription list at its own discretion.

Language

The two official languages of Belarus are Russian and Belarusian. That said, Russian is by far the dominating language in Belarus. The Belarusian language is not forbidden, but as with press freedom, the authorities, rather than encourage the use of Belarusian, stifle it in all possible areas of society, including in schools and universities.

Belarusian is no longer spoken in public schools. President Lukashenko is against Belarusian culture and language. The opposition is deprived of the possibility to explain to the people that they have the right to be Belarusian and to protect their language and culture. The State newspaper editors say that journalists can write in Belarusian, but this is hardly the case.

Belarusian is also perceived by the authorities as the language of the opposition. Speaking, writing or publishing in Belarusian de facto places the person using this means of expression, or responsible for this means of expression, in the opposition camp. The Belarusian language, despite being one of the two official languages, is clearly repressed to the benefit of the Russian language. According to those who we met with, official data shows that a majority of books published in Belarus are in Belarusian. But they assert the contrary. According to the Belarusian PEN centre, the vast majority of books available in Belarus are in Russian. Imports from Russia would make up a big chunk of the local book market.

Only a few actors, like the PEN centre, are able and actually edit books in Belarusian in cooperation with a handful of private publishers, which publish more books in Belarusian than State publishers do, albeit with much smaller circulations (up to 2000 copies vs. sometimes more than 10’000 in the case of State publishers). Generally speaking, the Belarusian PEN centre is one of very few places in Minsk where events in Belarusian may be arranged.

According to some interviewees, there is a wide State project seeking to restrict Belarusian culture and language, as embodied in the shutting down of the Marc Chagall institute, or the moving to Lithuania of the European Humanities University. The names of the nationally-conscious Belarusian writers were deleted from the curriculum to the benefit of a new concept entitled: “Russian literature in Belarus”.

According to President Lukashenko, there is no reason to study Belarusian anymore because in the end the world will speak only two languages: English and Chinese. President Lukashenko would have also declared that “no-one wants to read in Belarusian”. Underground poetry books , with a circulation of up to 2000-3000, would tend to prove him wrong. That said, if the current policy vis-à-vis Belarusian continues to prevail, then the future of the Belarusian language is bleak and may be compared to that of other minority languages.

Press freedom

In addition to registration and distribution problems, the independent press in Belarus faces numerous challenges. These include:

·    Fines for critical journalism;
·    No state advertisements – stifling of economy;
·    Restrictions on access to information;
·    Generally tight financial situation;
·    Strain on journalists to work for independent papers;
·    Little or no training – independent media not allowed to develop.

It is a heavy strain on journalists to work for opposition papers and, consequently, to be labelled an «enemy» of the State», one independent newspaper publisher told the delegation. As stated in this report’s chapter on Legal Issues, the Belarusian authorities have introduced a number of laws, rules and regulation which stifle press freedom and freedom to publish. Journalists or newspaper editors may be fined for a number of reasons, including defaming the President.

Although they may be politically «neutral», journalists working for independent media know very well that they are being associated with the opposition, as is almost all citizens working for independent publishers, non-registered NGOs, or even if their only «crime» is active use of the Belarusian language. Once one has been associated with the independent, «free» press, getting work for the State press is no longer an option.

In addition, there are regulations, which limit journalistic work, the most limiting being the restrictions on access to information.

State information is only distributed to the State press, which has a «contractual agreement» with the office of the President stipulating «rights and obligations of both parties». The State press is under obligation to publish information from the State and the Supreme Court. Still, the editors of the two State newspapers we spoke to assured us that they made the final decisions with regards to what to print, adding that they might even be critical of state information, «but not every day». Both editors claimed that they had been warned when they were «out of line». The authorities would have even tried to get rid of one of them on several occasions.

Journalists working for the independent press have no access to this type of information, with the only exception of information accessible on the Internet, which is only a small fraction of the total amount of State information. State officials are not allowed to even talk to, or inform independent media and their journalists who do not get accredited to press conferences and other important events.

In terms of economic conditions, the independent press is banned from State advertising. Revenues from non-State companies are close to non-existent, even though some independent papers manage to get some. Other hurdles include: Costly distribution, the added cost for some papers of printing in Russia, the extremely high prices on newsprint compared to the State press and heavy fines if the independent press does not write in accordance with the «rules» of the authorities. Overall, it is quite clear that the independent newspapers in Belarus fight an ongoing battle to stay alive.

Narodnaya Volya, one of the most important independent newspapers in Belarus, is facing huge problems. Their chief editor Losif Seredich said economic support from abroad is a life and death question for the newspaper. The most pressing issue for the newspaper right now is to pay a fine of 15.000 US dollars. The newspaper was expecting to be sentenced to pay such a fine for violating the law. This was confirmed upon the return to Norway of the Norwegian members of the delegation. This is one of many fines the newspaper has had to pay in recent years for its investigative and critical journalism. So far it has managed to pay the fines, but it is now in urgent need of money.

This situation allows for little if any development of the independent press in Belarus. Training is scarce and costly. Newspaper editors are not allowed to bring trainers in from abroad. As a result, most training has to take place domestically and over the week-end, or in other countries when it is possible financially. The Belarusian Human Rights House in exile in Vilnius has been used for such trainings. This sad situation was confirmed even by State editors who told us that the level of journalism is higher in the West because Belarus has not paid enough attention to the development of journalism in the last 30 years.

The State press also has other types of financial security arrangements. For instance, «Sovietskaya Belorussiya» has 70.000 mandatory State subscribers. Editor in chief Yakubovich was clearly not satisfied with this arrangement. He claimed «Sovietskaya Belorussiya» did not need these subscribers, and actually went as far as to state that the arrangement with State subscribers was bad for the image of his newspaper. Both editors of the State newspapers we talked to defended editorial freedom and claimed that they were allowed to write, publish and edit their respective paper the way they wanted, even though they had previously been warned off by State officials for not publishing State information in a satisfactory manner. They gave vague answers regarding press freedom issues, but admitted that the situation for press freedom and human rights was not good, while giving credit to BAJ for its work.

Mr. Yakubovich was also very engaged, almost curiously so, in the amount of returns from the State kiosks. We were presented with figures showing a return percentage of up to and exceeding 30% for some newspapers in some areas. This trend was also confirmed by Viachaslau Khadasouski of the independent weekly «Belorusy i Rynok». The question we asked in return was: «If the return rate keeps increasing, why don’t you print fewer newspapers?». The response was yet another example of the lack of openness in Belarus.  According to editor Yakubovich, the authorities «keep silent about these figures because the advertisers would be chocked» if they learned about them.

”What are the reasons for these huge returns?” we also asked. We received no clear answers. Any questions from us suggesting that the return rates might have to do with the actual content of the newspapers, that the buyers were obviously fed up with State media and State propaganda, were left unanswered or, at best, with comments such as «this is not possible to know.»

Freedom to publish

Introduction
The situation for publishers in Belarus, in an environment with virtually no freedom of expression, is very difficult.

As seen above, the legal environment (e.g.: Art 358 of the Penal Code, «insulting the President») is not satisfactory. Clearly, it does not promote good freedom of expression and freedom to publish conditions in the country.

As far as publishing is concerned, freedom to publish is hardly possible in Belarus. There are ten to twelve State Publishers in the country. Besides the State publishers, several hundred entities hold a publishing license. Among them, there are State entities such as universities, and 5 or 6 real independent and private publishers. These few private publishers tried to create a publishers’ association some 10 years ago. But this attempt failed for various reasons. Out of this group of 5 to 6 publishers, only two have survived since 1997. The life expectancy of private Belarusian publishers is not very long.

Under the current regime, with an arbitrary book publishing license system, the only solution available to publish a real oppositional book is to use a fake publisher’s identity.

An arbitrary book publishing license system
To be able to operate as a publisher, a license is needed. To get this license, the applicant needs to take an oral exam at the Ministry of Information. Whether he/she fails or passes the exam is entirely at the discretion of the Ministry, which usually refuses to give, should an applicant fail, the reasons why she or he failed. The exam can be taken once every six months.

It is apparently getting increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to get the publishing license. Those who are black-listed simply cannot get the license. Overall, the license is (not) delivered on an arbitrary basis.

To complicate things further, there are several publishing licenses for each type of literature. There is a license for fiction, a license for school books, a license for scientific materials etc. Again, in practice, the Ministry seems to be giving them at its own will. For instance, there seems to be a non-written rule whereupon the license for fiction is no longer given, or rarely so.

The publishing license is renewable every five years through an oral exam. Renewal of the license seems to be even more difficult than getting it for the first time.

The Ministry of Information issues warnings to publishers. In the first warning issued by the Ministry, the recipient is informed that the second warning would give the authorities the right to withdraw his/her publishing license(s). The warning system, as well as the need to renew one’s license, helps explain the sometimes short life expectancy of independent/private publishers in Belarus. As a publisher put it: “It is extremely difficult to be on the constant threat of having one’s license removed”. Books in Russian are less likely to get warnings than books in Belarusian.

Once a first warning is issued, the publisher concerned is under the threat of a second warning, which would mean the termination of his/her right to operate as a book publisher. The warnings do not refer to the content of books directly. They deal with technical issues such as the width of margins etc.

In reality, what is behind the issuing of these “technical warnings”?

1.    Publishing books which generally do not match the official line (Any alternative/original thought may anger the authorities);
2.    Publishing in the Belarusian language.

Plummeting sales
When independence was declared, there was a real hunger for books in Belarus. Print runs were rather high. With the turn of repression in the mid-1990s, sales and print runs started plummeting, making it difficult for private publishers to develop their business. Print runs have become so small over the years that the few existing private publishers depend on the support of private foundations.

Conclusion

This mission’s participants urge international NGOs, freedom of expression organizations and European political institutions to keep monitoring the situation for human rights in general and freedom of expression and to publish in particular over the next years. Such monitoring is particularly important with regards to the upcoming parliamentary elections in 2008 and future presidential elections. In the period preceding these elections, we urge Belarusian and European authorities to consider the following recommendations.

Recommendations
To the Belarusian authorities

·    Repeal all criminal defamation laws, in particular Articles 367, 368 & 369 of the Belarusian Penal Code;
·    Stop imposing prison sentences and disproportionate fines in defamation cases;
·    Degrade Articles 188 and 189 from the Penal Code to the Civil Code so as to ease the chilling effect on freedom of expression;
·    Repeal Article 10 of the Media Law, in particular the section requiring news media to register with the local authorities where their premises are located;
·    Open spaces for public debates before pushing through legislative changes having a chilling effect on freedom of expression (e.g.: Proposed Law on Information, Informatization, and the Protection of Information);
·    In general bring Belarusian media laws in line with international standards;
·    Lift the obligation to take an oral exam to get a book publishing license;
·    Lift the book publishing license system;
·    Free the book distribution system;
·    Stop using the distribution system as a way to hamper the distribution of independent newspapers (retail & subscription);
·    In general refrain from discriminatory policies towards independent media;
·    Stop repressing all forms of expression in the Belarusian language;
·    If the proposed law on Information, Informatization, and the Protection of Information goes through, do not make the registration of online publications compulsory.

To the EU

·    Do not engage in the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) process until the above points have been enforced locally

Appendixes

Appendix 1: Official data:
According to the Ministry of Information of Belarus, it had issued 584 book publishing licenses as of 1 August 2006.

While 22 publishing houses, including 2 State-owned publishers, issued 100-300 titles in 2005, 120 registered enterprises issued from 10 to 100 titles. Overall, Belarusian publishers issued 10’784 titles (of books and brochures) in 2005, according to data from the Ministry of Information. Educational publishing accounted for 40 % of that amount.

Currently, the Ministry of Information comprises 5 State-owned publishers. Each of them has its own specialisation

Officially, a Belarusian Association of Book Publishers and Book Distributors was created in 1994. According the Ministry, “it is an independent NGO uniting publishers, printers and book distributors”.

Appendix 2: The case of Andrei Klimov
Writer and political activist Andrei Klimov was arrested on 3 April 2007 following the posting of a publication of his on the web site of the United Civil Party and that criticized the regime of Alexander Lukashenko.

On 1 August 2007, Minsk’s Central District Court sentenced Andrei Klimov to two years in a high-security prison for making public calls to overthrow the government or to change the constitutional order violently using the media (Art. 361 BPC). At the end of a closed-door trial, Klimov was sentenced to two years in a high-security prison.

Appendix 3: The Regime creates its own Union of Writers
The union of Belarusian writers is the oldest creative organization in Belarus. During the wave of national revival following independence, the union of Belarusian writers became an influential NGO supporting democracy and national identity. The authorities did not approve of this. From 1995, the authorities have been pressuring the union of writers both as a legal entity, and in terms of individual harassment.

The Union of Belarusian Writers used to enjoy a large building of several thousand square meters in a nice location which it owned. This location included a 500-seat hall to organize cultural events. In 1997, President Lukashenko issued a decree taking away the building from the Union of Belarusian Writers. In 2006, the Union of Belarusian Writers was thrown out of the few remaining rooms it was occupying in the building. Last year, the Ministry of Justice applied to the Supreme Court for the liquidation of the Union of Belarusian Writers. Belarusian writers managed to defend their union so that it is still operating legally today.

That said, the Union of Belarusian Writers was expelled from its premises. In addition to this, the State seized all of the Union’s publications, including the weekly newspaper, and the literature magazines. A State holding was established on the basis of these publications. Not a single member of the Union of Belarusian Writers can publish in these publications. There is a black list. The Union members have grown to be dissidents.

The Government decided to create its own “pocket governmental union” in lieu of the Union of Writers. The official name of the governmental union is the Union of Writers of Belarus, i.e. the name the non-governmental union used to have until 1996 when it changed its name to the Union of Belarusian writers (NGOs were not allowed to use the country’s name in their official names).

The new governmental union has premises on State budget.

That said, the most renowned writers remain in the non-governmental union. It has 574 members, while the official union has around 300 members, most of these are not even writers. 30 of the non-official union write in Russian, while most of the writers of the official union write in Russian.

Appendix 4: Concrete examples of implementation of Article 10 of the Media Law

Verified translation from Belarusian into English

Pinsk City Executive Committee

21, Dniaprouskaj Flatylii Str.,
Pinsk, 225710, Brest region
Phones: 35-33-19, 35-33-27;
Fax: 35-36-91

28-09-1999  No. 1019/ 2

TO: Sytsin F.F.,
Tsentralanaya Str.,
56-13, Pinsk

TO: Tsishuk P.N.,
17, Darozhnaya Str.,
Pinsk

TO: Yarashuk V.T.
Piershamayskaya Str.,
109-15, Pinsk

Your application of 17-09-1999 about foundation and the necessity of adjustment of placement of  “Pravintsyja” periodical edition in the city of Pinsk was considered at a regular sitting of Pinsk City Executive Committee on 28-09-1999.

Presently, 7 periodical editions with the total circulation of 48.3 thousand copies are published in the city of Pinsk.

Hence, Pinsk City Executive Committee considers the presence of such a number of manifold periodical editions to be sufficient for informing the city dwellers and presenting the events taking place in it.

Chairman of Pinsk City Executive Committee    [SIGNATURE]

Verified translation from Belarusian into English

Hrodna City Executive Committee

DECISION No. 671

Hrodna, August 13, 2002

About placement of a media outlet

Having considered an application, submitted by Hrodna City Council of Belarusian Language Society named after F. Skaryna, with a request to get an approval for the placement of “Viedamasci” newspaper, founded by this NGO, Hrodna City Executive Committee took into account the “Viedamasci” newspaper had been planned as a social and political weekly. Publication of a periodical edition with the stated thematic does not correspond to the Statutory Notes of Belarusian Language Society named after F. Skaryna NGO.

Hence, Hrodna City Executive Committee RESOLVED

to abstain from giving a permit for the placement of “Viedamasci” newspaper in 11 K. Marx Str., Hrodna.

First Deputy Head of Hrodna
City Executive Committee             [SIGNATURE]            A.S. Kunash

Acting Administration Head of Hrodna
City Executive Committee            [SIGNATURE]            V.Y. Shaptsila

[OFFICIAL STAMP]

Verified translation from Belarusian into English

Smarhon District Executive Committee of Hrodna Region

5, Lenin Str., Smarhon, 231000
Phone: (+375 1592) 3-16-16
Fax: (+375 1592) 3-13-53

09-12-2004    No. 91/01-09

To: Ulan R.V.,
8, Tankistau Str., Smarhon

Smarhon District Executive Committee of Hrodna Region does not approve the placement of “Novaya gazeta Smarhoni” media outlet in 8, Tankistau Str., Smarhon.

Chairman            [SIGNATURE]        M.B. Goj

Freedom of Expression in Belarus

Freedom of Expression in Belarus

Report from a joint mission
International Publishers Association
Norwegian Union of Journalists
Norwegian PEN

 

Contents
Introduction                                               p 3
Executive Summary                                   p 3
Political situation                                       p 4
Legal issues                                              p 5
Freedom of Expression                               p 6
Registration                                           p 6
Distribution                                            p 6
Language                                               p 7
Press freedom                                        p 8
Freedom to publish                                 p 9
Conclusion                                                p 10
Recommendations                                     p 11
Appendixes                                               p 12
1: Official data                                       p 12
2: The case of Andrei Klimov                   p 12
3: The Regime creates its own Union of Writers    p 12
4: Concrete examples of implementation
of Article 10 of the Media Law                     p 13

Introduction
For years, international NGOs and press freedom organizations have been monitoring the situation of human rights in general and freedom of expression in particular in Belarus. Norwegian PEN sent a mission to Belarus (Minsk region) in February 2005. At that point, the different Nordic PEN-centres had already been engaged in Belarus since the mid-nineties. A report in Norwegian from this mission is available upon request.

Norwegian PEN applied for and received funding for a follow-up mission from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  The delegation, which visited Minsk and Hrodna in November 2007, represented Norwegian PEN, the Norwegian Union of Journalists and the International Publishers Association (IPA – Geneva).  This report was written by PEN and IPA and represents the views of the entire delegation.

Executive summary
Belarus has been labelled «the last dictatorship in Europe». Not all people we talked to during this mission condone this analysis. One interviewee said that «what is happening here is a national disaster, and most people seem to accept it».

The main issue is President Lukashenko’s control of the media. Through a number of different administrative initiatives, he makes certain that the view of the opposition never gets across to the majority of the people. Still the opposition, although ideologically split, fights back.

The Belarusian people are extremely tolerant and patient regarding the current political situation. The main two factors that may tip the situation in any direction are:

a. The possibilities for the opposition to actually cut through all State restrictions and get its political message across;

b. The great uncertainty regarding Belarusian economic development, and its effect on everyday life in Belarus.

Legislative changes, adopted without debate, are unfortunately not uncommon under the regime of President Lukashenko and their chilling effect on freedom of expression in Belarus is evident. The proposed law on Information Technology and the Protection of Information would also tend to prove that the authorities are preparing for control of the Internet.

The authorities stifle press freedom and freedom to publish through control of registration and distribution. Article 10 of the media law requires news media to register with the local authorities where their premises are located. Such registration may be denied or recalled at any time. The authorities also control all book- and newspaper-distribution through State bookstores and kiosks, as well as a national subscription system.

In addition to registration and distribution problems, the independent press in Belarus faces numerous challenges. These include fines for critical journalism, lack of state advertisements and restrictions on access to information. It is a strain on journalists to work for independent papers who are generally in a tight financial situation. With little or no training possibilities, independent media is not allowed to develop.

Freedom to publish books is hardly possible in Belarus. There are ten to twelve State Publishers in the country and only 5 – 6 private publishers. Of these only two have survived since 1997. The life expectancy of private Belarusian publishers is not very long. Under the current regime, with an arbitrary book publishing license system, the only solution available to publish a real oppositional book is to use a fake publisher’s identity.

Finally, President Lukashenko is against Belarusian culture and language. There seems to be a wide State project seeking to restrict it. Belarusian is also perceived by the authorities as the language of the opposition. If the current policy vis-à-vis Belarusian continues to prevail, one cannot be optimistic about the future of the Belarusian language.

Political situation
Belarus has often been labelled «the last dictatorship in Europe» by international political observers and analysts. Not all people we talked to in Belarus condone this analysis, including representatives of the opposition. Said one high profiled journalist representative: «I would not say that we live in a dictatorship. An autocratic regime, yes, but not a dictatorship». The President of PEN Belarus said he did not know whether to call Belarus a dictatorship or an autocratic regime, but “what is happening here is a national disaster, and most people seem to accept it”.

This last observation was repeated by many people we interviewed during the mission: Many people do not care, they are indifferent, they actually believe in Lukashenko. In a way, this is understandable, considering that Belarus is not in a state of chaos and most aspects of everyday life seem to function well. If society seems to function and nobody is starving, then why not let Lukashenko stay on?

Most people also believe elections are free and open. This situation would be close to unbelievable in any other country if the sitting President received 98% of the votes. Or if election results were obviously rigged, which was the case during the last elections for Parliament, where the results were available two weeks prior to the actual elections. Once the elections took place, President Lukashenko had already «appointed» all the new members of Parliament.

The main issue is President Lukashenko’s control of the media. Through a number of different initiatives, he makes certain that the view of the opposition never gets properly across to the majority of the people. 70% of the population still believes elections are open and transparent. Only about 25 – 30% supports the opposition, but as much as 30% of the population does not believe in political changes.

Still, the opposition fights back. Even though it has tried for years, even though the 10 opposition parties working together are split ideologically, they try to work together. When in Minsk, the delegation was informed about an ongoing conference in Vilnius where 60 regional leaders of the various Belarusian opposition parties were discussing common strategies prior to next year’s Parliamentary elections. The exact date for these elections has not yet been announced, but opposition parties will hardly accept another rigged election. One of the reasons for this is the fact that the opposition – standing together and nominating their candidates on one, joint list – have a better position vis-à-vis the electoral committee . Another is the increased use of the Internet, in particular by the younger generation which is growing increasingly tired of State propaganda.

Still, one important, uncertain factor may be essential: The Belarusian economy. When the delegation visited Belarus, the news about the U.S. freezing of Belarusian funds «broke». That is, people we talked to knew about this, but there was no official statement from the authorities and no news in the newspapers, not even in the State media.

The freezing of foreign investment is yet another nail in the «Belarusian financial coffin». Due to the complex relationship with Russia and the ongoing conflict with regards to oil- and gas prices, which has previously allowed for imports at very reasonable prices, Russian financial support is now drying up. This is dramatic because the Belarusian economy, according to opposition politician and former presidential candidate Alaksandar Milinkievic, is not in a good position as far as trade competition is concerned. The people’s dissatisfaction with Lukashenko’s financial regime is increasing. According to opposition figures we met with, the authorities recently scrapped all social benefits in order to balance the budget. Milinkievic says the primary challenge for the opposition is to make people understand that they can win through «peaceful street fights».  However, other opposition politicians we talked to would not use the term «peaceful», the bottom line being the fact that opposition candidates are unable to promote themselves in the media and change would therefore have to be brought about through more revolutionary methods.

Yet the Belarusian people are extremely tolerant and patient regarding the current political situation and too many simply do not care. The younger generation’s willingness to put up a real, political fight remains to be seen. At this point, therefore, the main two factors that may tip the situation in any direction are: a. The possibilities for the opposition to actually cut through all State restrictions and get its political message across, b. The great uncertainty regarding Belarusian economic development, and its effect on everyday life in Belarus.

Legal issues
Legislative changes, adopted without debate, are unfortunately not uncommon under the regime of President Lukashenko.

Articles 367 and 368 of the Belarusian Penal Code (BPC) were introduced in January 2001, in preparation for the 2001 presidential elections. Article 367 BPC criminalises defaming the President, while Article 368 BPC criminalises insulting the President. Defamation of the President can result in up to five years in prison. Other criminal defamation articles of the Penal Code include: Article 188 (spreading false information discrediting another person), Article 189 (deliberate degradation of the honour and dignity of an individual), and Article 369 (insult of a public official). Defamation and insult of ordinary citizens (Articles 188 & 189) can lead to imprisonment for up to two years .

The law “on entering amendments and changes to certain legislative acts of the Republic of Belarus on strengthening responsibility for the actions directed against human being and public safety” came into force on 2 January 2006 . It includes a series of amendments to the criminal code that further undermine freedom of expression. In particular, Article 369(1) now criminalises defamation of the Belarusian State.

Even more so than in a country like Turkey where similar provisions exist and are used to stifle freedom of expression, the chilling effect of these criminal defamation provisions on freedom of expression in Belarus is evident. These provisions, including those which came into force on 2. January 2006, violate international freedom of expression standards, in particular Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Belarus is a party to.

Use of civil defamation suits to silence non-State media is much more common . Article 5 of the civil code prohibits the publication of information damaging the honour or dignity of the President, as well as high-ranking officials, and can lead to the closure of a media outlet following the accumulation of two or more warnings.

Part of Article 10 of the media law requires news media to register with the local authorities where their premises are located. For some years, the authorities have been using this article to silence independent and opposition media by blocking their registration. For concrete examples of the implementation of Article 10, please see Appendix 4 on pp. 13-18. Clearly, some of the decisions are politically-motivated.

The proposed law on Information Technology and the Protection of Information, which proposes creating a system for registering all media, including online publications, is one of the disturbing legal developments of this year. Because of the lack of freedom of expression in the country, there is no real debate around this proposed piece of legislation. In August 2007, the Ministry of Information created a working group to look at the “Internet’s legal regulation” . It is not clear yet whether registration will be recommended or obligatory.

People we talked to had different views about the proposed new law. The bottom line probably is, like some young journalist from Hrodna put it, that «the State is preparing for control of the Internet». That may very well be, but as it turned out, even the editor of the most selling State newspaper «Sovietskaya Belorussiya» was very critical of the work preceding the new law. Said editor Pavel Yakubovich: «I think websites should be registered and all censorship abolished, but I fear the new law will be politically-biased». He was clearly not satisfied with the lawmaking process, claiming the lawmakers were unprofessional and not real legal experts. The result remains to be seen – so far there is not even a draft for a new law, so it is too early to discuss. Both Yakubovich and editor Anatol Lemyashonak of the State-controlled daily «Respublika» were interested in the new law and said they would actively debate it in their respective newspapers. Still, Belarus may soon be the only European country to join ranks with countries like China, Tunisia and Cuba where government control of the Internet is more or less total.  Until then, the Internet remains one of the few means to reach young people and to have open discussions about politics in Belarus.

Freedom of expression

Various forms of censorship in Belarus
There is no pre-publication censorship in Belarus. Yet everything published, aired or broadcast must be in line with “State ideology”. Belarus is one of the last countries in Europe with a State press. Vis-à-vis non-State press, censorship is indirect. Administrative and economic measures are used to stifle freedom of expression, as well as defamation cases. The authorities use more or less sophisticated administrative methods to control the press and stifle the opposition, the main two elements being registration and distribution.

Registration
All business-, NGO- and media-activity in Belarus must be okayed by the authorities through registration of such activity. As seen above, Article 10 of the media law requires news media to register with the local authorities where their premises are located. The outcome of this process is entirely up to the authorities. Registration may be denied or recalled at any time. Even though an appeal to the courts is an option, the outcome is seldom in favour of the plaintiff. Consequently, the authorities control the existence of all Belarusian NGOs, including the non-state journalist organization Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ). They may revoke the registration at any point, rendering the organization illegal or, in the worst case, obsolete. Authorities may also seize all assets, including buildings, office spaces and all goods in stock, as they did with the independent Union of Belarusian Writers, the oldest artist organization in the country. In 1997, President Lukashenko issued a decree, allowing for the confiscation of the unions office building in Minsk – including a 500 seat theatre for meetings and cultural events as well as all their printed material, values totalling more than 1.2 million Euros. Finally, in 2006, the Union was thrown out of its remaining offices. For more, see Appendix 3 on page 12.

One reason for being denied registration is the lack of a legal address. Since the authorities are in control of most of the office buildings in Minsk, an address may be very hard to obtain, unless one has a good relationship with these same authorities.

Without registration, it is not possible to operate. Lack of registration is therefore the main obstacle for the media, including book publishing. Without registration, you are not allowed to distribute books and newspapers and the authorities control the distribution.

Distribution

Books
There is a de facto State monopoly on the distribution of books through Belkniga. Belkniga is a State-owned Company, which operates bookshops and libraries throughout the country. The Director of Belkniga is appointed by the Ministry of Information. It is not uncommon for State bookshop directors to refuse to sell a book by one of the independent publishers (for e.g.: a book with the Belarusian flag on the cover).

There are also a few independent bookshops and a huge book market in Minsk, but it is very difficult to operate an independent bookshop successfully. Higher distribution costs than for official bookshops are one of the reasons why it is so difficult. In addition, Belarusians are used to cheap books since the Soviet era. As a result, it is nearly impossible for independent publishers and booksellers to increase book prices in order to make a profit. State publishers and official bookshops do not face a similar problem as they are subsidized by the government.

State bookshops are accused of favouring books in Russian, and as a consequence, books from Russia. This fact helps explain why the print runs of Belarusian publishers publishing in Belarusian are so small (maximum of 2’000 copies). For more on language, please see the “Language” section hereunder.

As a consequence of the de facto monopoly on distribution, the easiest way to reach the readers of independent books is not through bookshops. Writers and private publishers strive to organize private sales in order to be able to meet the readers. However, organizing such meetings is getting increasingly difficult as there are less and less spaces available. In Minsk, such meetings, where writers meet their readers, used to take place at the House of Literature where the Union of Writers was headquartered. Now such meetings are banned there. It is also getting increasingly difficult to access the Universities. Most premises belong to State Institutions. Under these circumstances, less convenient locations have to be found. Other alternative distribution channels include: several unofficial selling points throughout Minsk, some Internet websites etc.

Newspapers
The situation for newspaper distribution is much the same. The State controls the newspaper «kiosks» and vendors are reluctant to stock independent newspapers, though some may be found if you ask for them specifically. The State distribution system also controls how many copies you are allowed to sell, regardless of the actual demand. Consequently, some newspapers, like those owned by the Baranavichy Publishing House «Intex-press», have established their own distributions system. This also makes it possible for them to distribute their papers in small villages. But the system is costly and time-consuming.

In addition to retail, the State controls a subscription system through which newspapers are distributed by mail. The State can remove any newspaper from the subscription list at its own discretion.

Language
The two official languages of Belarus are Russian and Belarusian. That said, Russian is by far the dominating language in Belarus. The Belarusian language is not forbidden, but as with press freedom, the authorities, rather than encourage the use of Belarusian, stifle it in all possible areas of society, including in schools and universities.

Belarusian is no longer spoken in public schools. President Lukashenko is against Belarusian culture and language. The opposition is deprived of the possibility to explain to the people that they have the right to be Belarusian and to protect their language and culture. The State newspaper editors say that journalists can write in Belarusian, but this is hardly the case.

Belarusian is also perceived by the authorities as the language of the opposition. Speaking, writing or publishing in Belarusian de facto places the person using this means of expression, or responsible for this means of expression, in the opposition camp. The Belarusian language, despite being one of the two official languages, is clearly repressed to the benefit of the Russian language. According to those who we met with, official data shows that a majority of books published in Belarus are in Belarusian. But they assert the contrary. According to the Belarusian PEN centre, the vast majority of books available in Belarus are in Russian. Imports from Russia would make up a big chunk of the local book market.

Only a few actors, like the PEN centre, are able and actually edit books in Belarusian in cooperation with a handful of private publishers, which publish more books in Belarusian than State publishers do, albeit with much smaller circulations (up to 2000 copies vs. sometimes more than 10’000 in the case of State publishers). Generally speaking, the Belarusian PEN centre is one of very few places in Minsk where events in Belarusian may be arranged.

According to some interviewees, there is a wide State project seeking to restrict Belarusian culture and language, as embodied in the shutting down of the Marc Chagall institute, or the moving to Lithuania of the European Humanities University. The names of the nationally-conscious Belarusian writers were deleted from the curriculum to the benefit of a new concept entitled: “Russian literature in Belarus”.

According to President Lukashenko, there is no reason to study Belarusian anymore because in the end the world will speak only two languages: English and Chinese. President Lukashenko would have also declared that “no-one wants to read in Belarusian”. Underground poetry books , with a circulation of up to 2000-3000,  would tend to prove him wrong. That said, if the current policy vis-à-vis Belarusian continues to prevail, then the future of the Belarusian language is bleak and may be compared to that of other minority languages.

Press freedom
In addition to registration and distribution problems, the independent press in Belarus faces numerous challenges. These include:

·    Fines for critical journalism;
·    No state advertisements – stifling of economy;
·    Restrictions on access to information;
·    Generally tight financial situation;
·    Strain on journalists to work for independent papers;
·    Little or no training – independent media not allowed to develop.

It is a heavy strain on journalists to work for opposition papers and, consequently, to be labelled an «enemy» of the State», one independent newspaper publisher told the delegation. As stated in this report’s chapter on Legal Issues, the Belarusian authorities have introduced a number of laws, rules and regulation which stifle press freedom and freedom to publish. Journalists or newspaper editors may be fined for a number of reasons, including defaming the President.

Although they may be politically «neutral», journalists working for independent media know very well that they are being associated with the opposition, as is almost all citizens working for independent publishers, non-registered NGOs, or even if their only «crime» is active use of the Belarusian language. Once one has been associated with the independent, «free» press, getting work for the State press is no longer an option.

In addition, there are regulations, which limit journalistic work, the most limiting being the restrictions on access to information.

State information is only distributed to the State press, which has a «contractual agreement» with the office of the President stipulating «rights and obligations of both parties». The State press is under obligation to publish information from the State and the Supreme Court. Still, the editors of the two State newspapers we spoke to assured us that they made the final decisions with regards to what to print, adding that they might even be critical of state information, «but not every day». Both editors claimed that they had been warned when they were «out of line». The authorities would have even tried to get rid of one of them on several occasions.

Journalists working for the independent press have no access to this type of information, with the only exception of information accessible on the Internet, which is only a small fraction of the total amount of State information. State officials are not allowed to even talk to, or inform independent media and their journalists who do not get accredited to press conferences and other important events.

In terms of economic conditions, the independent press is banned from State advertising. Revenues from non-State companies are close to non-existent, even though some independent papers manage to get some. Other hurdles include: Costly distribution, the added cost for some papers of printing in Russia, the extremely high prices on newsprint compared to the State press and heavy fines if the independent press does not write in accordance with the «rules» of the authorities. Overall, it is quite clear that the independent newspapers in Belarus fight an ongoing battle to stay alive.

Narodnaya Volya, one of the most important independent newspapers in Belarus, is facing huge problems. Their chief editor Losif Seredich said economic support from abroad is a life and death question for the newspaper. The most pressing issue for the newspaper right now is to pay a fine of 15.000 US dollars. The newspaper was expecting to be sentenced to pay such a fine for violating the law. This was confirmed upon the return to Norway of the Norwegian members of the delegation. This is one of many fines the newspaper has had to pay in recent years for its investigative and critical journalism. So far it has managed to pay the fines, but it is now in urgent need of money.

This situation allows for little if any development of the independent press in Belarus. Training is scarce and costly. Newspaper editors are not allowed to bring trainers in from abroad. As a result, most training has to take place domestically and over the week-end, or in other countries when it is possible financially. The Belarusian Human Rights House in exile in Vilnius has been used for such trainings. This sad situation was confirmed even by State editors who told us that the level of journalism is higher in the West because Belarus has not paid enough attention to the development of journalism in the last 30 years.

The State press also has other types of financial security arrangements. For instance, «Sovietskaya Belorussiya» has 70.000 mandatory State subscribers. Editor in chief Yakubovich was clearly not satisfied with this arrangement. He claimed «Sovietskaya Belorussiya» did not need these subscribers, and actually went as far as to state that the arrangement with State subscribers was bad for the image of his newspaper. Both editors of the State newspapers we talked to defended editorial freedom and claimed that they were allowed to write, publish and edit their respective paper the way they wanted, even though they had previously been warned off by State officials for not publishing State information in a satisfactory manner. They gave vague answers regarding press freedom issues, but admitted that the situation for press freedom and human rights was not good, while giving credit to BAJ for its work.

Mr. Yakubovich was also very engaged, almost curiously so, in the amount of returns from the State kiosks. We were presented with figures showing a return percentage of up to and exceeding 30% for some newspapers in some areas. This trend was also confirmed by Viachaslau Khadasouski of the independent weekly «Belorusy i Rynok». The question we asked in return was: «If the return rate keeps increasing, why don’t you print fewer newspapers?». The response was yet another example of the lack of openness in Belarus.  According to editor Yakubovich, the authorities «keep silent about these figures because the advertisers would be chocked» if they learned about them.

”What are the reasons for these huge returns?” we also asked. We received no clear answers. Any questions from us suggesting that the return rates might have to do with the actual content of the newspapers, that the buyers were obviously fed up with State media and State propaganda, were left unanswered or, at best, with comments such as «this is not possible to know.»

Freedom to publish

Introduction
The situation for publishers in Belarus, in an environment with virtually no freedom of expression, is very difficult.

As seen above, the legal environment (e.g.: Art 358 of the Penal Code, «insulting the President») is not satisfactory. Clearly, it does not promote good freedom of expression and freedom to publish conditions in the country.

As far as publishing is concerned, freedom to publish is hardly possible in Belarus. There are ten to twelve State Publishers in the country. Besides the State publishers, several hundred entities hold a publishing license. Among them, there are State entities such as universities, and 5 or 6 real independent and private publishers. These few private publishers tried to create a publishers’ association some 10 years ago. But this attempt failed for various reasons. Out of this group of 5 to 6 publishers, only two have survived since 1997. The life expectancy of private Belarusian publishers is not very long.

Under the current regime, with an arbitrary book publishing license system, the only solution available to publish a real oppositional book is to use a fake publisher’s identity.

An arbitrary book publishing license system
To be able to operate as a publisher, a license is needed. To get this license, the applicant needs to take an oral exam at the Ministry of Information. Whether he/she fails or passes the exam is entirely at the discretion of the Ministry, which usually refuses to give, should an applicant fail, the reasons why she or he failed. The exam can be taken once every six months.

It is apparently getting increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to get the publishing license. Those who are black-listed simply cannot get the license. Overall, the license is (not) delivered on an arbitrary basis.

To complicate things further, there are several publishing licenses for each type of literature. There is a license for fiction, a license for school books, a license for scientific materials etc. Again, in practice, the Ministry seems to be giving them at its own will. For instance, there seems to be a non-written rule whereupon the license for fiction is no longer given, or rarely so.

The publishing license is renewable every five years through an oral exam. Renewal of the license seems to be even more difficult than getting it for the first time.

The Ministry of Information issues warnings to publishers. In the first warning issued by the Ministry, the recipient is informed that the second warning would give the authorities the right to withdraw his/her publishing license(s). The warning system, as well as the need to renew one’s license, helps explain the sometimes short life expectancy of independent/private publishers in Belarus. As a publisher put it: “It is extremely difficult to be on the constant threat of having one’s license removed”. Books in Russian are less likely to get warnings than books in Belarusian.

Once a first warning is issued, the publisher concerned is under the threat of a second warning, which would mean the termination of his/her right to operate as a book publisher. The warnings do not refer to the content of books directly. They deal with technical issues such as the width of margins etc.

In reality, what is behind the issuing of these “technical warnings”?

1.    Publishing books which generally do not match the official line (Any alternative/original thought may anger the authorities);
2.    Publishing in the Belarusian language.

Plummeting sales
When independence was declared, there was a real hunger for books in Belarus. Print runs were rather high. With the turn of repression in the mid-1990s, sales and print runs started plummeting, making it difficult for private publishers to develop their business. Print runs have become so small over the years that the few existing private publishers depend on the support of private foundations.

Conclusion
This mission’s participants urge international NGOs, freedom of expression organizations and European political institutions to keep monitoring the situation for human rights in general and freedom of expression and to publish in particular over the next years. Such monitoring is particularly important with regards to the upcoming parliamentary elections in 2008 and future presidential elections. In the period preceding these elections, we urge Belarusian and European authorities to consider the following recommendations.

Recommendations to the Belarusian authorities

·    Repeal all criminal defamation laws, in particular Articles 367, 368 & 369 of the Belarusian Penal Code;
·    Stop imposing prison sentences and disproportionate fines in defamation cases;
·    Degrade Articles 188 and 189 from the Penal Code to the Civil Code so as to ease the chilling effect on freedom of expression;
·    Repeal Article 10 of the Media Law, in particular the section requiring news media to register with the local authorities where their premises are located;
·    Open spaces for public debates before pushing through legislative changes having a chilling effect on freedom of expression (e.g.: Proposed Law on Information, Informatization, and the Protection of Information);
·    In general bring Belarusian media laws in line with international standards;
·    Lift the obligation to take an oral exam to get a book publishing license;
·    Lift the book publishing license system;
·    Free the book distribution system;
·    Stop using the distribution system as a way to hamper the distribution of independent newspapers (retail & subscription);
·    In general refrain from discriminatory policies towards independent media;
·    Stop repressing all forms of expression in the Belarusian language;
·    If the proposed law on Information, Informatization, and the Protection of Information goes through, do not make the registration of online publications compulsory.

To the EU

·    Do not engage in the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) process until the above points have been enforced locally

 

Appendixes

Appendix 1: Official data:
According to the Ministry of Information of Belarus, it had issued 584 book publishing licenses as of 1 August 2006.

While 22 publishing houses, including 2 State-owned publishers, issued 100-300 titles in 2005, 120 registered enterprises issued from 10 to 100 titles. Overall, Belarusian publishers issued 10’784 titles (of books and brochures) in 2005, according to data from the Ministry of Information. Educational publishing accounted for 40 % of that amount.

Currently, the Ministry of Information comprises 5 State-owned publishers. Each of them has its own specialisation

Officially, a Belarusian Association of Book Publishers and Book Distributors was created in 1994. According the Ministry, “it is an independent NGO uniting publishers, printers and book distributors”.

Appendix 2: The case of Andrei Klimov
Writer and political activist Andrei Klimov was arrested on 3 April 2007 following the posting of a publication of his on the web site of the United Civil Party and that criticized the regime of Alexander Lukashenko.

On 1 August 2007, Minsk’s Central District Court sentenced Andrei Klimov to two years in a high-security prison for making public calls to overthrow the government or to change the constitutional order violently using the media (Art. 361 BPC). At the end of a closed-door trial, Klimov was sentenced to two years in a high-security prison.

Appendix 3: The Regime creates its own Union of Writers
The union of Belarusian writers is the oldest creative organization in Belarus. During the wave of national revival following independence, the union of Belarusian writers became an influential NGO supporting democracy and national identity. The authorities did not approve of this. From 1995, the authorities have been pressuring the union of writers both as a legal entity, and in terms of individual harassment.

The Union of Belarusian Writers used to enjoy a large building of several thousand square meters in a nice location which it owned. This location included a 500-seat hall to organize cultural events. In 1997, President Lukashenko issued a decree taking away the building from the Union of Belarusian Writers. In 2006, the Union of Belarusian Writers was thrown out of the few remaining rooms it was occupying in the building. Last year, the Ministry of Justice applied to the Supreme Court for the liquidation of the Union of Belarusian Writers. Belarusian writers managed to defend their union so that it is still operating legally today.

That said, the Union of Belarusian Writers was expelled from its premises. In addition to this, the State seized all of the Union’s publications, including the weekly newspaper, and the literature magazines. A State holding was established on the basis of these publications. Not a single member of the Union of Belarusian Writers can publish in these publications. There is a black list. The Union members have grown to be dissidents.

The Government decided to create its own “pocket governmental union” in lieu of the Union of Writers. The official name of the governmental union is the Union of Writers of Belarus, i.e. the name the non-governmental union used to have until 1996 when it changed its name to the Union of Belarusian writers (NGOs were not allowed to use the country’s name in their official names).

The new governmental union has premises on State budget.

That said, the most renowned writers remain in the non-governmental union. It has 574 members, while the official union has around 300 members, most of these are not even writers. 30 of the non-official union write in Russian, while most of the writers of the official union write in Russian.

Appendix 4: Concrete examples of implementation of Article 10 of the Media Law

Verified translation from Belarusian into English

Pinsk City Executive Committee

21, Dniaprouskaj Flatylii Str.,
Pinsk, 225710, Brest region
Phones: 35-33-19, 35-33-27;
Fax: 35-36-91

28-09-1999  No. 1019/ 2

TO: Sytsin F.F.,
Tsentralanaya Str.,
56-13, Pinsk

TO: Tsishuk P.N.,
17, Darozhnaya Str.,
Pinsk

TO: Yarashuk V.T.
Piershamayskaya Str.,
109-15, Pinsk

Your application of 17-09-1999 about foundation and the necessity of adjustment of placement of  “Pravintsyja” periodical edition in the city of Pinsk was considered at a regular sitting of Pinsk City Executive Committee on 28-09-1999.

Presently, 7 periodical editions with the total circulation of 48.3 thousand copies are published in the city of Pinsk.

Hence, Pinsk City Executive Committee considers the presence of such a number of manifold periodical editions to be sufficient for informing the city dwellers and presenting the events taking place in it.

Chairman of Pinsk City Executive Committee    [SIGNATURE]

Verified translation from Belarusian into English

Hrodna City Executive Committee

DECISION No. 671

Hrodna, August 13, 2002

About placement of a media outlet

Having considered an application, submitted by Hrodna City Council of Belarusian Language Society named after F. Skaryna, with a request to get an approval for the placement of “Viedamasci” newspaper, founded by this NGO, Hrodna City Executive Committee took into account the “Viedamasci” newspaper had been planned as a social and political weekly. Publication of a periodical edition with the stated thematic does not correspond to the Statutory Notes of Belarusian Language Society named after F. Skaryna NGO.

Hence, Hrodna City Executive Committee RESOLVED

to abstain from giving a permit for the placement of “Viedamasci” newspaper in 11 K. Marx Str., Hrodna.

First Deputy Head of Hrodna
City Executive Committee             [SIGNATURE]            A.S. Kunash

Acting Administration Head of Hrodna
City Executive Committee            [SIGNATURE]            V.Y. Shaptsila

[OFFICIAL STAMP]

 

 

Verified translation from Belarusian into English

Smarhon District Executive Committee of Hrodna Region

5, Lenin Str., Smarhon, 231000
Phone: (+375 1592) 3-16-16 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              (+375 1592) 3-16-16      end_of_the_skype_highlighting
Fax: (+375 1592) 3-13-53

09-12-2004    No. 91/01-09

To: Ulan R.V.,
8, Tankistau Str., Smarhon

 

Smarhon District Executive Committee of Hrodna Region does not approve the placement of “Novaya gazeta Smarhoni” media outlet in 8, Tankistau Str., Smarhon.

 

Chairman            [SIGNATURE]        M.B. Goj

2005: Belarus: General concern

President Alexander Lukashenko
The office of the President of Belarus
Fax: + 375 17 2260610

Oslo, August 24, 2005

Dear President Lukashenko

Norwegian non governmental organisations, the Norwegian Union of Journalists (NJ), the Human Rights House Foundation (HRH) and Norwegian PEN, express grave concern over recent crackdown on free expression in general, and the harassment of Polish-speaking journalists in particular, in Belarus.

We are alarmed at the increased harassment of journalists and media outlets in Belarus, in particular those working for the Polish minority press and we strongly condemn this latest crackdown on local and foreign journalists working in your country. We urge the authorities to ensure everyone’s right «to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers» as stated in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.»

According to information from the International Press Institute (IPI), several Polish and Belarusian journalists of Polish descent were recently harassed and detained in the Belarusian cities of Schuchin and Grodno. The Norwegian Journalists Association, the Human Rights House Foundation (HRH) and Norwegian PEN are particularly concerned about the following incidents:

On 1 August, Belarusian police arrested Andrzej Pisalnik, editor-in-chief of Glos znad Niemna, a Polish minority newspaper based in Belarus and a contributor to the Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita in Schuchin.

* On 6 July, Pisalnik and several of his colleagues from Glos znad Niemna, as well as Andrzej Poczobut, editor-in-chief of Magazyn Polski, and Ivan Roman, a reporter for the Solidarnost newspaper, were arrested by police in Grodno, while they were protesting in the city centre against the harassment of their newspapers.

* On 27 July, special police officers and plainclothes policemen entered the SPB headquarters and detained many of the journalists present in the offices at the time. Among them were Pisalnik, Inesa Todryk, a reporter for Glosznad Niemna, Waclaw Radziwinowicz and Robert Kowalewski, journalists for Gazeta Wyborcza, Pavel Mazheika, the head of the Grodno office of the BAJ, and Siarhey Hryts, a photographer for the Associated Press (AP).

* On 27 July, Schuchin police detained Agnieszka Romaszewska, a Polish journalist for the television channel TVP1, near the «Polish House» in Schuchin, where a conference of the outgoing members of the SPB was beingheld at the time. Reportedly, she did not have the necessary accreditation from the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

* On 27. July 2005, Andrei Pochobut, editor-in-chief of the Polish-language magazine «Magazyn Polski», was given a 15-day prison sentence for «taking part in an illegal demonstration» in the western town of Shchuchin on 3 July and for «civil disobedience» in protesting the government’s taking control of the Union of Poles in Belarus.

* On 6. August 2005 The expulsion of Adam Tuchlinksi, 25, of the weekly news magazine Przekroj. Tuchlinksi is a Polish photojournalist who was expelled from Belarus and banned from the country for five years.

* On 11. August 2005 beating of Pawel Reszka, Moscow correspondent for the Polish daily «Rzeczpospolita».

* On 16. August 2005 raids were carried out by the Belarusian secret police (KGB) in Minsk and the western city of Grodno. The KGB raided the apartments of three young members of the Third Way opposition movement who reportedly create satirical, animated cartoons for Internet distribution. The KGB confiscated at least 12 computers and other equipment used to produce the cartoons and interrogated three Third Way members.

The Norwegian Union of Journalists (NJ), the Human Rights House Foundation and Norwegian PEN condemn the authorities´ attempts to worsen the relationship between the Belarusian and the Polish people. We appeal to the Committee for Religious and National Questions to respect the freedom of association and ensure that the Association of Belarusian Poles is free to operate without restrictions.

We urge the Belarusian authorities to:

– give Polish diplomats permission to enter Belarus

– recognise the election of the new leader of the Association of Belarusian Poles

Angelika Borys, who was elected chairwoman of the Polish Association in March 2005

– respect freedom of expression and stop hounding and arresting journalists from Belarus´s Polish minority as part of  your present conflict with neighbouring Poland.

.
Sincerely
Maria Dahle          Ann-Magrit Austenå             Carl Morten Iversen
director, HRH        president, NJ                       secretary general, Norwegian PEN

Cc:

The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
The Belarusian Ministry of Justice
The Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
The Constitutional Court in Belarus
The Royal Norwegian Embassy in Kiev
Association of  Belarusian Poles
Association of Polish Journalists
Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ)
Law Initiative, Pravova Initiativa
PEN Belarus
Polish Society Assosiation in Belarus
OSCE

Uttalelse til OSCEs Human Dimensions konferanse, oktober 2003

OSCE Human Dimensions Conference 2003 Warzaw, Poland, October 2003

Statement by Norwegian People’s Aid, Norwegian Union of Journalists and Norwegian PEN

 

Mr. Chairman, honoured delegates and colleagues,

Too many regimes, political leaders and non-governmental or quasi-governmental groups find it hard to meet criticism and unpleasent questions and to respect opposition. A wide range of means are being used by the same actors to silence critisism and independent information: liquidation, intimidation, imprisonment and torture, censorship and more subtile economical means such as monopolization of distribution units, illegal tax inspections and demands and an extensive use of defamation statutes against journalists and editors who are sentenced to pay heavy fines. We view the latter practices as financial blackmail intended to bankrupt publications and individual journalists. All these means are being employed in the OSCE region.

Belarus
The authoritanian regime of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is openly hostile to a free press.  According to Freedom House (New York) new security legislation allows state agencies to effectively seize control of all media outlets under cover of counter-terrorism operations.  This legislation prohibits press discussion of law enforcement activities and defines some forms of political protest as «terrorist» activity.  In 2002, Belarusian courts sentenced Mikola Markevich, editor of the independant weekly Pahonya, and the journalist Pavel Mazheika to two years of forced labour for insulting the honor of the president. The sentence was reduced to one year on appeal.  Authorities subsequently arrested 14 journalists for protesting in support of Markevich and Mazheika.  State-run media outlets are subordinated to the president, whose regime controls press content and the appointment of senior editors.  While state-controlled print and broadcast media do not offer a plurality of views, some regional television broadcasters cautiously attempt more balanced reporting.  Many Belarusians receive their news from Russian television.  However, the government is reportedly planning to assign the current Russian broadcast frequency to a new state television channel.

Ukraine
In Ukraine, freedom of the press declined under the continued weight of political pressure and government censorship.  Article 34 of the constitution, and a 1991 law on print media, guarantee freedom of expression and the press, but journalists do not enjoy these rights in practice.  Official influence and de facto censorship is widespread.  The administration issues regular instructions (temniks) to mass media outlets directing the nature, theme, and substance of news reporting.  The European Institute for the Media reported that coverage at the state broadcaster UT-1 clearly favored the ruling party during the March 2002 parliamentary campaign.  Opposition media outlets face various forms of harassment, including obstructive tax audits, safety inspections, and selective enforcement of media regulations.  Libel ceased to be a criminal offense in 2001; however, politically motivated civil suits are common.  Journalists frequently experience physical assaults, death threats and murder as a result of their work.  In March 2002, Reporters Sans Frontières noted that 10 journalists have died under suspicious circumstances in the past four years, while another 41 have suffered serious injury from attacks.  In October, the body of Ukrainian News director Mykhailo Kolomyets was discovered in northwestern Belarus nearly a week after he had disappeared from Kyiv.  Kolomyets´s news agency had at times been critical of the government.  The case remained open by year´s end.  The well publicized murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze also remains unsolved.  Although print and broadcast media are largely in private hands, the state maintains control over the central printing and distributing centers.

Recommendations
On behalf of Norwegian People´s Aid, Norwegian Union of Journalists and Norwegian PEN, I would like to ask you to pay attention to the following two recommendations:

1) We will again recommend that the OSCE conducts a comparative analysis on the situation of freedom of expression in all OSCE participating states. The purpose of this study will be to identify common problems and obstacles, as well as country specific problems. This study will enable a more effective approach to solve the problems, both by national governments and international organisations. To conduct this study, financial support from the OSCE participating states must be required, as well as independent expert and NGO assistance. The study could also be used to elaborate and adopt international guidelines to national governments facing political and religious extremism.

2) With reference to freedom of the media we will recommend that the OSCE establishes a consultative body where competent NGOs are represented on an informal or formal basis. We believe that the NGOs will contribute with valuable insight and concrete measures to the strengthening of freedom of the media in the OSCE region.

Oslo, 01. October 2003