Independent publications in Belarus have virtually disappeared as a result of government suppression. In 2005, at least fifteen independent newspapers were denied printing or distribution services by state-owned monopolies.
The latest victim is the independent newspaper Solidarnost. Belsayuzdruk, which has monopoly on newspaper distribution through kiosks, announced that its contract with Solidarnost would not be renewed. The Belarusian state postal service also said it would cease distributing the paper and the state monopoly subscription service refused to allow people to subscribe to this and other independent newspapers. As a result, the paper was forced to stop distribution.
Solidarnost was founded in 1991 as an independent voice for a group of trade unions. Published in Russian and Belarusian, it gradually became a moderate opposition newspaper critical of President Alexander Lukashenko. Lately, its sales had been on the rise, with more than ninety-five percent of its print run being sold.
This is not the first time the government's treatment of Solidarnost has raised troubling questions. In October 2004, a staff writer, Veronika Cherkasova, was stabbed to death in her home in Minsk, the capital. The authorities' handling of the investigation has drawn considerable criticism. Before an investigation, the prosecutor ruled out any possibility that her murder was linked to her work as a journalist. She had been investigating arms sales that Belarus had made to Iraq while Saddam Hussein was in power. In December, authorities announced they had closed Cherkasova's case because they could not determine who had murdered her.
With virtually no independent press left, it will be difficult for the opposition in Belarus to get their message out to the voters before the March presidential election. Still, a large group of pro-democracy supporters led by Alexander Milinkevich, are optimistic in light of peaceful revolutions in the neighboring countries of Georgia and Ukraine.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says elections in Belarus should not be sham elections and the international community ought to be ready to help Belarus carry out a free and fair election in 2006. The United States joins others in the international community in calling on Belarusian authorities to allow free and fair elections, as well as a free press to report on them.
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.