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To Belorus association of journalists

We publish below a letter of the Russian Fund of protection of glasnost. We completely support this letter and we express hope that by common efforts we shall manage tp protect the freedom of speech in Belorus.

Co-chairmen of Kharkov Group for human rights protection E.Zakharov and I.Rapp

The Russian fund of glasnost is worried by consecutive violations of the freedom of speech in Belorus.

On 13 May 1999 the court collegium of the Supreme Economic Court of Belorus took a decision to refuse claims of six independent Belorus newspapers to the State Committee of press about canceling the notices. These notices were made for publishing materials related to the election of the President of Belorus, which was held by deputies of the Supreme Soviet of 13 thconvocation. The State Committee of press found in these materials an appeal to seize power. The way in which the cases were considered makes one doubt the objectivity of the court.

The cases about six independent newspapers were united into one case contrary to the wish of claimants and existing procedural norms. The information on uniting the cases and the time of the court session came to the newspapers’ editorial boards by fax one day before the trial. The advocates of some newspapers were absent or occupied in other processes. In this connection the newspapers directed to the Supreme Economic Court the petitions to postpone the trial and the protest against uniting the cases. The newspapers based their petition on the fact that the Economic-Procedural Code of Belorus does not contain the opportunity to unite cases under such circumstances. Besides, on claims of a number of newspapers political-linguistic expertises were appointed with the aim to determine whether the materials published in them contain appeals to seize power. The court rejected the petition and considered the case without representatives of the newspapers. This violated Article 62 of the Constitution of Belorus, which guarantees the right of everybody to have juridical aid in order to protect one’s rights and freedoms, and Article 115 which stipulates that justice is carried out as a competition of two equal sides in the trial. The juridical collegium headed by chairman of the Supreme Economic Court V.V.Boyko ended this complex case (that the case is complex was mentioned by the collegium, when they justified that several cases were united in one) during one hour, without considering a single argument of the claimants described in their petition. The court did not consider the question on obtaining an expertise, although both the respondent and the claimants insisted on carrying out the expertise.

Thus, all the claims were refused and the notice of the State Committee of press remained valid. According to the legislation of Belorus the repeated notice may lead to closing the newspaper.

This trial testifies on the further increase of pressure on the independent press and makes doubtful for newspapers the opportunity to protect their legal rights and interests in court.
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