Northern Light

Cartoon editor on trial in Belarus

On Friday the trial against Belarussian editor Aleksandr Sdvizhkov opened in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. Sdvizhkov, former deputy editor of the now closed independent weekly Zgoda, is charged with ”incitement to religious hatred” after having published the Danish Mohammed cartoons back in February 2006. If convicted Sdvizhkov can be sentenced from three to ten years in prison.

Eigth of the 12 original cartoons were printed alongside an editoral with the headline ”Political creation”, which chronicled the international uproar protesting the Danish cartoons in the beginning of February 2006.

At the time of publication Belarussian KGB-agents confiscated the weekly’s computers, discs, and other electronic equipment.

The probe against the paper was initiated after authorities received complaints from the state Committee for Religious and Ethnic Affairs on behalf of the small Muslim community in Belarus.

Deputy editor Aleksandr Sdvizhkov fled to Russia before criminal charges were brought against him, but he was arrested two months ago when he returned to Belarus.

The paper was closed down in March 2006 two days before the presidential election March 19 which paved the way for a third term for dictator Aleksandr Lukashenko. The cartoon affair was seen as a pretext for taking action against an outlet covering the candidate from the opposition.

Sdvizhkov was in charge of the publication of the cartoons, but the newspaper never made it to the reader. The top management interferred and stopped distribution of the issue before it reached newspaper vendors in Minsk.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists in 2006 nine countries around the world took punitive actions against publications or their editors for reprinting one or more of the 12 cartoons run by Jyllands-Posten in September 2005. Six newspapers in three countries have been forced to close and at least nine journalists in four countries have been arrested and faced potential criminal prosecution. Governments also issued censorship orders and sponsored protests.