Belarus has long been a dangerous place for both free speech and a free press. However, many gasped when a court sentenced journalist Aleksandr Sdvizhkov to three years hard labor for publishing the cartoons of Muhammad that led to worldwide protests. This follows an equally abusive decision of the government to shutdown his newspaper, Zgoda (Consensus), over the incident.
President Aleksandr Lukashenko is little more than a dictator in the country and he shut down Zgoda in March 2006 after he ran a cartoon showing Muhammad with a bomb in his turban. Notably, Danish media recently republished the dozen or so cartoons as a statement of the free press after a plot was uncovered to kill a Danish journalist over the earlier controversy.
Lukashenko denounced the publication in his country as “a provocation against the state.” It is a standard that all but converts the rights of a free press into a purely discretionary matter for the government.
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