A three-year prison sentence was imposed Jan. 18 by a court in Minsk on Alyaksandr Zdvizhkou, former deputy editor of the weekly Zhoda, for reprinting the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that first appeared in a Danish newspaper. He was found guilty of “inciting racial hatred” under article 130 of Belarus’ criminal code at the end of a trial behind closed doors. (Reporters Without Borders, Jan. 18)
Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion provides a little context:
That would be the same Belarus where one can buy anti-Semitic tomes such as Convicting Those Who Slaughter Russia (which quotes The Protocols of the Elders of Zion), and Stalin’s Testament, which carries a special endorsement from President Alexander Lukashenko – whose recent Borat-like ruminations on how the city of Bobrusk was a “pig sty” on account of the Jews living there led to an international outcry. Other books in similar vein were noted by the Simon Wiesenthal centre in August; meanwhile, the head of the country’s Pentecostal Union has complained that state television featured his church in a documentary on “destructive cults”.
So why the rather hypocritical crackdown over the Danish cartoons?
Bartholomew says “Lukashenko’s increasing links with Iran are a doubtless significant factor,” but also quotes Reporters Without Borders:
Zhoda was linked to Alyaksandr Kazulin, who ran against President Alexandre Lukashenko in the March 2006 presidential election. Lukashenko was very critical of Zhoda and Kazulin in a televised speech during the campaign, calling Kazulin a “hoodlum.” The economic supreme court closed Zhoda down on 17 March 2006.
To which Bartholomew adds:
It should be recalled that Lukashenko doesn’t just object to the Muhammad cartoons; he’s also thin-skinned about his own image being taken in vain in satirical drawings, and “offending the honour of Lukashenko” is a criminal offence.