Belarus government to sue leading opposition newspapers
The Belarusian government is preparing to sue two leading opposition newspapers for publishing "improper" information, the Belapan news agency reported Wednesday.
The Information Ministry is to sue the anti-government newspapers - Nasha Niva (Our Field) and Narodnaya Volya (People's Will) - for publishing "improper materials," said Andrei Bastunets, an opposition lawyer.
State attorneys will charge that the two papers contributed to public disorder by publishing reports of mass anti-government demonstrations on December 1, Bastunets said. He cited a notice that he said the ministry sent to the publications.
Independent media face severe pressure in Belarus, but in the past the government has almost always justified closures on the basis of tax or registration violations.
This has allowed President Aleksander Lukashenko to claim his government does not censor opposition media.
Since 1991, only three Belarusian newspapers have been shut down as a result of a formal Information Ministry complaint alleging improper reporting, Bastunets said.
Belarus' constitution guarantees a free and open press, but that has not stopped Lukashenko from exerting pressure on independent media throughout his years in office.
The government decision to sue two of the few remaining independent newspapers in Belarus is evidence of an intensifying crackdown against opposition, Bastunets said.
The move follows the prosecution of some 20 opposition leaders for their role in anti-government protests after Lukashenko's re- election.