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Belarus - Local paper ordered to vacate office for fire code violation

Source: Reporters Without Borders - Mon, 23 Dec 2013 10:26 AM
Author: Reporters Without Borders
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Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Reporters Without Borders is concerned about the way the Belarusian authorities harass outspoken news outlets using regulations unrelated to media legislation to disguise their real goal.

In what seems to be the latest example, officials in the western city of Slonim ordered the staff of the independent weekly Gazeta Slonimskaya to vacate their offices by 1 January on the grounds that the building violates the fire code.

"Although apparently linked to security issues, Gazeta Slonimskaya's eviction from its offices is very suspicious," Reporters Without Borders said.

"Belarus is a country where independent media are constantly persecuted. We fear that this order is a veiled attempt to suppress one of the few local newspapers with a reputation for independent views. We urge the Belarusian authorities to act transparently and to respect freedom of information."

Editor Viktar Vladashchuk regards the eviction as just the latest of many government manoeuvres aimed at silencing outspoken media. Gazeta Slonimskaya has operated out of a two-room office rented from Partner Slonim, a private company, since 2008. Even if Vladashchuk sounds confident about the newspaper's future, he says it must quickly find new premises to avoid any break in publication.

"I know the local administration repeatedly tried to convince the owner to evict us, but he always refused," Vladashchuk said. "In October, the authorities sent firemen to check the place. After a long inspection ending in November, they gave orders to evacuate the entire second floor [where the newspaper has its office]."

A Partner Slonim representative confirmed to Reporters Without Borders that the fire department has banned the company from renting out the second floor on the grounds that it does not comply with fire regulations, but he said the order affected all of the second floor's tenants, not just Gazeta Slonimskaya.

Vladashchuk said the authorities have regarded Gazeta Slonimskaya as an opposition newspaper ever since its launch in 1997.

"We have always done our job (…) writing about ordinary Belarusian citizens, about the average Slonim inhabitant," he said. "Ever since our first issue, the authorities have shown their displeasure with our coverage."

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