February 7, 2008

President of the Republic of Belarus
Alyaksandr G. Lukashenka
Karl Marx Str. 38
220016 g. Minsk
Fax: 00 375 (172) 26 06 10

Your Excellency,

On behalf of the 3,400 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we are writing to express our grave concern regarding the three-year prison sentence handed to editor Aliaksandar Zdzvizhkou (Sdvizhkov).

According to our information, Zdzvizhkou, former deputy editor of the weekly Zhoda, was arrested on November 18, 2007, in Barysau, near Minsk. In February 2006, Zdzvizhkou reprinted cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed, originally published in a Danish newspaper, which had been the subject of an international furor. The authorities immediately began an investigation into possible “incitement of religious hatred” and a month later the paper was closed. Zdzvizhkou fled Belarus and remained abroad until November 2007 when he returned to the country to attend his father’s funeral and was arrested by the Belarusian Security Service. Zdzvizhkou was charged with “incitement of religious hatred” under article 130 of the criminal code. His trial began on January 11, 2008, and was conducted behind closed doors.

PEN American Center believes Aliaksandar Zdzvizhkou’s detention to be a violation of Article 19 of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political rights, to which Belarus is a signatory. We therefore respectfully call for his immediate and unconditional release.

Thank you for your attention.

Hannah Pakula                   
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee   

Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

Embassy of Belarus
1619 New Hampshire Avenue,
N.W. Washington, DC 20009
Fax: (202) 986-1805

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