On February 25, 2009, a district court in Brest, on the Polish-Belarus border, ordered the destruction of the most recent edition of the Belarusian language cultural magazine Arche on grounds of “extremism.” This has led Belarus PEN to issue a protest against the government’s attempts to “undermine freedom of expression and impede the professional activities of writers and journalists.”

Background Information

Because cultural magazines have been banned by the Belarusian government, Arche is printed in Poland and distributed by volunteers. It has suffered numerous lawsuits and confiscations, most recently in November 2008 when historian and journalist Ales Pashkievich was apprehended by police while carrying ten copies of the September 2008 issue, each over 1,000 pages long. The copies were seized on accusation that they contained articles “harmful to the national interests of the Republic of Belarus.” On February 25, in a court hearing where all but the KGB office and Arche’s lawyer were barred entry, the Brest District Court concluded that Arche contained material “that discredits the activities of the authorities of the Republic of Belarus, fuels political and social tension and incites the organization of a collective revolt.”

It was later reported that the charges related to four articles. One, which referred to the outcome of the September 2008 parliamentary elections, questioned the sources of apparent apathy among the electorate. The second claimed corruption in government. The third accused President Lukashenko of capitalizing on a bomb attack to justify a crackdown on dissent. The final, a review of a film by Polish director Andrej Wajda made reference to KGB and Nazi officers as allies during World War II.
 
The Belarus PEN Centre has issued the following statement:

On 25 February Maskouski District Court of Brest, Belarus, ruled that ARCHE’7-8-2008 should be considered an extremist publication.

On 24 October 2008 Renata Niadbajeva, an officer of the Brest Customs decided that the information in the 7-8th issue of
ARCHE journal ‘may be harmful to the national interests of the Republic of Belarus.’ 10 copies of the publication found in historian Aleś Paškievič’s luggage were confiscated for expert analysis. In February 2009 ARCHE’s editorial board received the findings of the expert analysis, carried out by the Brest Regional KGB Department.

The court session was closed, with only a KGB representative and
Arche’s lawyer present in it. The judge did not ask a single question. So far there is no information on the grounds for such a decision. The lawyer said the ruling was not within the law.

ARCHE's editor-in-chief Valer Bułhakaŭ said the charges were absurd. According to Mr Bułhakaŭ, this is a case of ‘one hand washing the other’ in the governmental institutions, with the KGB willing to take on the functions of an ideological censor.

The Council of the Belarusian Centre of International P.E.N. is convinced that such reaction to publications criticizing the current government undermine freedom of expression and impede professional activities of writers and journalists.

Write A Letter

  • Protesting the seizure and destruction of the September edition of Arche in breach of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Belarus is a signatory;
  • Reminding the government that even the destruction of a limited number of publications, such as in the case of Arche’s September issue, serves as a deterrent to others who wish to write independent commentary on the important issues of governance and democracy in Belarus;
  • Urging that there be no further seizures and that restrictions on independent publications such as Arche be lifted.

Send Your Letter To

Alyaksandr G. Lukashenka
President of the Republic of Belarus
Karl Marx Str. 38
220016 g. Minsk
Belarus
Fax: + 375 (172) 26 06 10 or + 375 (172) 22 38 72
E-mail: pres@president.gov.by

Please copy appeals to the diplomatic representative for Belarus in your country if possible.