Reporters Without Borders hails the Financial Investigation Department’s 25 March decision to unblock
the independent monthly Arche-Pachatak
’s bank account, which had been frozen since October, and the apparent intention to abandon a criminal prosecution for “financial irregularities.”
“We hope that those in charge of this case will confirm in writing that no prosecution will be brought against Arche
and its employees,” Reporters Without Borders said. “This independent cultural review has been hounded for political reasons ever since its creation in 1998 and had to stop publishing last June.
“The authorities must now allow it to re-register with the information ministry. Its three previous attempts to do so in November, January and February were all rejected for absurd reasons.”
Until forced to suspend operations, the Minsk-based Arche
produced a monthly issue with a print-run of 700 copies and an average of 400 pages of articles by academics on literary and historical subjects, and opinion that sometimes conflicted with official ideology. It also published contributions by foreign academics translated into Belarusian. The retail price ranged from 3 to 10 euros. Its website
receives about 1,000 visits a day.
The magazine’s sale by bookshops and newsstands has been banned since 2004, but it continued to available by subscription and to be distributed by a network of volunteers. A double-issue was accused of being “extremist” in 2009 but this did not affect the work of the staff.
The magazine’s then editor, Valer Bulhakau
, was arrested at a book-launch in the western city of Hrodna on 14 September 2012 for allegedly failing to use a cash till to register sales of Arche and books.
FID investigators then went to the Minsk offices of Polycraft, the company that published Arche
, and removed all of the magazine’s accounting records since the start of 2011. The latest issue was also seized.
After listening to the phone calls of Arche
’s staff, the Committee for State Security seized more than 5,000 books from Arche’s depot on 2 October. And then, although Bulhakau was no longer its editor, the FID interrogated several of its employees, including its founder, Andrei Dynko
and blocked its account.
Bulhakau was convicted on a charge of “illegal entrepreneurial activity” and was fined 500,000 roubles (45 euros).
Belarusian state television accused Arche
of “fascism” and “extremism” in two reports
at the end of October about the confiscation of Bulhakau’s books. Fearing a possible criminal prosecution, Bulhakau fled to a nearby European country and is still there. His wife and two children have remained in Minsk.
meanwhile has a new owner who wants to resume publishing. Its most recent attempt to register was rejected on 14 March on the grounds that a phone number had been entered in the wrong space on the application form.
“We still cannot publish Arche
,” acting editor Ales Pashkevich
told Reporters Without Borders. “We submitted a new registration application on 15 March and we hope to have the information ministry’s response by mid-April.”
The authorities yesterday refused to register another independent news outlet, the TV station Belsat
, while the Hrodna-based independent journalist Andrzej Poczobut
is still subject to a three-year suspended jail sentence. Belarus is ranked 157th out of 179 countries in the 2013 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index