Belarus publisher crowd funds to pay government fine

Belarus publisher crowd funds to pay government fine

Independent Belarusian publishing house and bookshop Lohvinau has launched a crowdfunding campaign to help pay a government fine for selling books without state registration.

Founder Ihar Lohvinau, winner of the International Publishers Association's Freedom to Publish Prize 2014, was sentenced last month (January). He was fined 976bn Belarusian roubles (£40,800), according to the Guardian, which is the equivalent of the bookshop’s annual turnover.

Lohvinau told the publication: “We are trapped in an absurd and unjust situation which threatens not only the existence of Lohvinau Bookstore but which endangers the possibility to publish books freely in Belarus”.

Lohvinau's publishing licence was withdrawn by the Belarus Ministry of Information in October 2013 for printing a book continuing a photograph of a protestor who had been assaulted by the police. Campaigners are now worried that the fine could mean the closure of Lohvinau, which champions repressed writers and is a major player in Belarus’s independent publishing scene.

From July 2013, the Belarusian government has required all publishers to register with the ministry of information. However, applications can be turned down if publishers are found to be “carrying out licensed activities with aims contradicting the interests of the Republic of Belarus”.

Lohvinau told The Bookseller in December: "Over the past 10 months, we have applied eight times for the registration to the Ministry of Information and each time we have been rejected in a kafkaesque manner."

In a statement, Lohvinau staff warned that their case sets “a legal precedent to constrain and repress” publishing, distribution and discussion across Belarus. They said: “In this regard we’re afraid that independent publishing in the country will soon become impossible, while the whole sphere of book industry will fall under the total ideological control.”

PEN International and the International Publishers Association sent an open letter to the Belarusian Minister of Communications and Informatization, Sergei Popkov and the Minister of Information, Liliya Ananich calling on the government “to urgently review and reform its laws relating to media and publishing”

A group has formed supporting the bookstore, gathering online support using the hashtag #SaveLohvinau. Their effort has raised 15% of the fine so far.