International PEN welcomes the release of editor Aliaksandar Zdzvizhkou (Sdvizhkov), who was serving a three-year sentence for reprinting controversial cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. However, PEN regrets that the conviction was not overturned.

Zdzvizhkou, former deputy editor of the weekly Zhoda, was released around February 22, 2008, after a Supreme Court in Belarus reduced his three-year sentence to three months, which he had already served. Zdzvizhkou had been in detention since his arrest on November 18, 2007, in Barysau, near Minsk. Charged with “incitement of religious hatred” under article 130 of the criminal code, he was sentenced on January 18, 2008, to three years’ imprisonment.

Background Information

In February 2006, Zdzvizhkou reprinted cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed, earlier published in a Danish newspaper, which had been the subject of an international furor. The authorities immediately began an investigation into possible "inciting of religious hatred," and Zdzvizhkou was eventually arrested in November 2007. Many journalists believed that Zdvizkou’s arrest and sentencing was politically motivated. Zhoda gave coverage to an opposition candidate during the March 2006 election and the authorities closed the newspaper that same month.
 
Zdzvizhkou’s lawyer, Maya Alyaksandrava, said that the decision of the Supreme Court to reduce the sentence was due to the "extraordinary circumstances" of the case. She cited the journalist’s deteriorating health, his good behavior in prison, and his mother’s ill health. The decision was made one day after the European Parliament adopted the February 21 resolution condemning the Belarusian authorities for politically motivated imprisonments, which mentioned the sentencing of Zdvizhkou and called for his release. The resolution also condemned the lack of improvement in human rights in Belarus and the clampdown on independent media.

More information

Write A Letter

  • welcoming the release of Aliaksandar Zdzvizhkou on reduction of his sentence;
  • expressing regret that the conviction still stands and stating that the conviction is in direct opposition to Article 19 of the United Nations International Declaration on Human Rights, which guarantees the right to freedom of expression.

Send Your Letter To

President of the Republic of Belarus
Alyaksandr G. Lukashenka
Karl Marx Str. 38
220016 g. Minsk
Belarus
Fax: 00 375 (172) 26 06 10
E-mail:pres@president.gov.by

Please send a copy of your appeals to the Belarusian embassy in your own country.

Please check with PEN if sending appeals after April 1, 2008: ftw [at] pen.org