Unsuccessful meeting between newspaper editors and deputy minister

Published on 18 May 2010

Reporters Without Borders condemns the Belarus government’s treatment of independent newspapers that cover social issues and politics, in particular, its refusal since last autumn to issue eight of them with the accreditation they need to operate legally.

Three editors– Vadzim Barshcheuski of the Vitsebsk-based newspaper Nash Dom, Siarhei Balay of the Navapolatsk-based Khimik: Dva Goroda and Uladzimir Shyla of the Salihorsk-based Soligorsk Plus – requested a joint meeting with deputy information minister Lilya Ananich on 12 May with the aim of finding out the reason for the government’s refusals. Instead the minister received them one by one. The encounter was “disappointing” and their attempts to argue their case were unsuccessful, they said.

The meeting might be seen as a goodwill gesture by the authorities but that would be far from the truth. The outcome showed that, although the government is pressuring newspapers to legalise their status, it is not ready to give them the accreditation they need.

Instead, it is just creating more obstacles by finding additional trivial reasons to deny independent and opposition newspapers the required permits. Receiving the publishers separately, in order to handle each case on an individual basis and undermine their united front, seems to be the government’s latest tactic. The publishers should stick together. A global solution is needed.

The authorities use silly pretexts for refusing accreditation. Khimik: Dva Goroda is about to make its fourth request but its editor, Balay, fears another rejection. The first time, it was refused on the grounds that its editor did not have a university degree. They second time on the grounds that it described itself as covering “general politics” but had a section called “House and Garden.” And the third time because of an alleged lack of hygiene in its office.

Balay said the application procedure could be fairly simple but the ministry complicates it unnecessarily by insisting that it will accept applications only twice a week. He added that he had expected nothing from last week’s meeting but saw it as the first step in a future concerted action.

Shyla, whose newspaper has been refused accreditation twice, said he was very disappointed by the meeting, in which the deputy minister turned a deaf ear to his pleas. The ministry refused to give Soligorsk Plus accreditation on the ground that its office was in Shyla’s home although this is allowed by the law. The ministry insists on respect for the letter of the law, but only when it suits the government.

The deputy minister refused to discuss the case of Nash Dom, which has appealed against the ministry’s refusal to give it accreditation. The supreme court is due to issue a ruling on the case on 20 May.

Reporters Without Borders is of the view that the refusals are all politically motivated and lack any basis in concrete facts that would be admitted by any proper court.

The press freedom organisation therefore supports all the journalists who have been the victims of these refusals and urges the authorities to grant them the required accreditation. Some newspapers try to keep publishing without accreditation but, when they do, the authorities have a free hand to seize issues as they are published and block their distribution.