Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Despite constitutional provisions for freedom of the press, the state restricted such rights in practice and increasingly asserted control over the press, particularly in the run-up to the flawed October 17 parliamentary elections and referendum enabling President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to seek a third term in 2006. Courts prohibit criticism of the government by broadly interpreting harsh libel laws, which provide for prison sentences or high fines for libeling the president or government officials. The government used media laws to suspend more than 25 independent and opposition newspapers throughout the year, including 11 in the month before the elections. Foreign journalists are required to register with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In June, Mikhail Podolyak, a Ukrainian freelance journalist, was deported by the KGB for harming national interests by criticizing Lukashenka. He is banned from entering Belarus for five years.
The government controls the content of television broadcasts, and state-controlled media are biased in favor of the government. During the campaigning, opposition candidates received minimal and disparaging coverage. The independent and private press is active and expresses diverse and critical views, but many journalists practiced self-censorship due to increased government attacks on independent media. On Election Day, security forces assaulted both local and foreign journalists covering opposition demonstrations and arrested other journalists visiting polling stations. Several days later, well-known journalist Veronika Cherkasova was stabbed to death in her apartment. Cherkasova was a journalist for the opposition newspaper Solidarnost and covered politically sensitive issues, which her colleagues believe was the motive behind her killing. In November, Pavel Mazheyka, head of the Hrodna branch of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, was sentenced to seven days in jail for participating in a protest against pressure on the independent media. In April, authorities closed the investigation into the 2000 kidnapping of Dmitry Zavadsky, once Lukashenka's personal cameraman, despite the Council of Europe's report in January, which implicated government officials.
The government has a monopoly over the broadcast market and provides state-controlled media with considerable subsidies. Circulation of the independent press is low. Authorities put pressure on managers of state enterprises to advertise only in state media and on distributors and printing presses not to work with independent media. In January, the Belarus postal service and the state distributor canceled their 2004 contracts with one of the top-selling independent papers, Belorusskaya Delovaya Gazeta. The government telecommunications company has a monopoly over Internet service, which results in high prices and low usage and allows the government to monitor all Internet activity.