International PEN protests the three-year sentence imposed on editor Aliaksandar Zdzvizhkou (Sdvizhkov), who was arrested on January 18, 2008, for reprinting controversial cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. PEN considers 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.

Background Information

Zdzvizhkou, former deputy editor of the weekly Zhoda, was arrested on November 18, 2007, in Barysau, near Minsk. 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.

In February 2006, Zdzvizhkou reprinted cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed, originally published in a Danish newspaper, which had been the subject of international furor. The authorities immediately began an investigation into possible "inciting of religious hatred" and a month later the paper was closed. Zdzvizhkou fled Belarus and remained abroad. In November 2007 he returned to the country to attend his father’s funeral and was arrested by the Belarusian Security Service.

The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that former editor of Zhoda Aleksei Korol disagreed with Zdzvizhkou’s decision to print the pictures and the newspaper apologized to the Belarusian Muslim community shortly after their publication. However, Korol has stated that the punishment was "disproportionate" to Zdzvizhkou’s actions. Meanwhile, Belarusian Islamic leader Ismail Voronovich is reported to have said that he wanted the authorities to reprimand the journalist, not jail him.

Many journalists believe 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.

On September 30, 2005, a Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, published 12 editorial cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammed. Many Muslims were offended by the cartoons, which depicted the prophet in various guises including that of a suicide bomber. Images of the prophet are traditionally prohibited in the Islamic faith. The original printing of the pictures along with the subsequent reprinting in various newspapers sparked protests across the Muslim world.

More information

Write A Letter

  • protesting the three-year sentence imposed on Aliaksandar Zdzvizhkou;
  • calling for his immediate and unconditional release in accordance with Article 19 of the United Nations International Covenant on Human Rights, to which Belarus is a signatory.

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 March 3, 2008: ftw [at] pen.org