Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 126

Law enforcement organs in Belarus have begun searching the homes of a number of opposition leaders, inventorying their possessions with a view to confiscation. Those already targeted include former parliament chairman Mechislau Hryb, former defense minister Pavel Kazlouski, and social-democrat leader Anatol Lyabedzka. More are slated to follow. The measure constitutes retaliation against the refusal of these political leaders to pay the huge fines unlawfully imposed on them in "administrative" proceedings carried out because of their participation in opposition rallies and demonstrations. (Russian agencies, June 25)

Meanwhile, the lower house of Belarus’s appointed parliament has passed in the first reading changes to the law on the media, adding some crippling restrictions. The law extends the range of penalties which the State Press Committee may apply, and enables the committee to substitute itself for courts, for example by determining libel and by revoking or suspending the registration of media outlets. The changes also codify a March 18 government decree suppressing press freedom. The decree was originally issued in anticipation of the April 2 Treaty of Union with Russia and is meant to curb public discussion of the issue in Belarus. These restrictions include a ban on disclosure of information deemed secret by the authorities; penalties for information "defaming the President;" and temporary closure of media outlets for "activities punishable by law," (although a number of existing Belarusan laws violate international democratic standards). The bill bans import, export, and distribution of printed, audiovisual, and other information that could "harm state interests," and extends the restrictions to all publications, including those with a print run of under 500. The bill thus threatens samizdat publications and Internet pages. It also greatly complicates the start of new publications, and introduces a two-year prohibition against restarting a publication once banned. (Russian agencies, June 25; Committee to Protect Journalists press release, June 26)

Tajik Peace Agreement Signed.