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Wikileaks, Belarus and Israel Shamir

By Index on Censorship / 5 February, 2011

It has been reported that an “accredited” journalist for Wikileaks, Israel Shamir, met with Uladzimri Makei, the Head of the Presidential administration in Belarus. Subsequently, it was reported in the Belarus Telegraf that a state newspaper would be publishing documents about the Belarusian opposition.

Wikileaks has always maintained it takes care to ensure that names of political activists are redacted from cables before publication on its website. Index on Censorship is concerned that some of the Wikileaks cables relating to Belarus that have not appeared on the main Wikileaks website are now in the public domain.

There are various “commercial crimes” in Belarus that make it a criminal offence to run an unregistered organisation. In turn, many NGOs are prohibited from registering their organisations. This places a lot of civil society in Belarus in a legal grey area which can mean political activists, who cannot register, are placed in breach of the law for accepting foreign funding. It is rumoured in Belarus that many of the Wikileaks cables outline foreign support for opposition groups. Our worry is that this information could be used to prosecute some of the political prisoners currently held by the KGB.

In the immediate aftermath of the discredited Belarusian elections, Index on Censorship made repeated attempts to contact Wikileaks in order for them to clarify its relationship with Shamir.

Our correspondence with Wikileaks:

It is reported that Israel Shamir is representing Wikileaks in Russia and Belarus.

The Russian press agency Interfax claim that Shamir met with Vladimir Makei, the Head of Administration for President Lukashenko of Belarus on 19 December.

In an interview with the agency, Shamir confirmed the existence of a Wikileaks’ Belarusian dossier.

Two days later in a press conference, President Lukashenko said this:

“We’re simply going to publish certain documents. We’ll see how those who are published on the Belarusian WikiLeaks site — the supporters [of the opposition] and those who are working behind the scenes — react to this.”

Lukashenko is reported to be setting up a state-sponsored Wikileaks site. At the moment the president’s state administrative apparatus, including the KGB, are attempting to bring prosecutions against members of the opposition including presidential candidates and the staff of independent media source Charter97.

We have unconfirmed reports that Shamir has used his access to the Wikileaks’ US diplomatic cables to aid the prosecution of civil society activists within Belarus.

We would be grateful if you could look into the following, and the following questions:

a) What is the official status of Israel Shamir at Wikileaks?

b) Is it true that Mr Shamir has released additional cables from the US embassy in Minsk (i.e. other than the five already on the website) to the Belarus authorities? If so, do you know which cables?

c) How many cables from the US embassy in Minsk are in Wikileaks’ possession in total?

We are especially concerned that cables which outline funding relationships between foreign bodies and the Belarusian government may be used to prosecute opposition activists for “commercial crimes”; therefore could you answer the following 2 questions:

d) Other than the five cables already released on the website, can these be provided to Index on Censorship and or other groups? If so, which cables and when will they be available and to whom?

e) Have any of the cables relating to Belarus been redacted by WikiLeaks?

Index on Censorship, as you know, has been broadly supportive of Wikileaks on the question of free expression and freedom of information. Our overall mission is to promote free expression and safeguard the rights of those seeking to exercise their free expression. The actions of the Belarus government, by any standards violate those freedoms.

We look forward to hearing from you as a matter of urgency.

Wikileaks response:

A representative of Wikileaks responded, ‘We have no further reports on this “rumour/issue”. Another Wikileaks representative told Index “obviously it is not approved”.

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