March 10, 2009

Alyaksandr G. Lukashenka
President of the Republic of Belarus
Karl Marx Str. 38
220016 g. Minsk
Fax:  + (375) 172-260-610, + (375) 172-223-872

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 destruction of the cultural magazine Arche.

According to our information, historian and journalist Ales Pashkievich was apprehended by police in November 2008 while carrying ten copies of the cultural magazine Arche, each over 1,000 pages in length. The copies were seized on grounds that they contained articles “harmful to the national interests of the Republic of Belarus.” Following the encounter, a district court in Brest ordered the destruction of the most recent edition of Arche on February 25, 2009, on grounds that it is an “extremist” publication that attempts to “undermine freedom of expression and impede the professional activities of writers and journalists.” The trial was closed to all persons with the exception of a KGB officer and Arche’s lawyer, who has questioned the validity of the judge’s ruling.

Later reports indicate that the charges relate to four articles published in Arche, which cover the questionable apathy of the Belarusian electorate in the 2008 elections, claims of governmental corruption, accusations that the president capitalized on a bomb threat to justify a crackdown on dissidents, as well as a review of a Polish film by director Andrej Wajda that references ties between the KGB and Nazi officers during World War II. Arche has been the target of numerous lawsuits and confiscations in recent years.

PEN American Center protests the destruction of the latest issue of Arche. We urge the Belarusian government to cease the harassment of independent publications such as Arche in accordance with Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Belarus is a signatory, as such action detracts from the ability of others to provide independent commentary on the important issues of government and democracy in Belarus.

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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