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The Belarus Supreme Court has reduced the jail sentence from three years to three months for an editor who reprinted the controversial Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

The decision allows Aleksandr Sdvizhkov, the former deputy editor of the now-closed "Zgoda" newspaper, to leave prison immediately, having already served three months in detention.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Sdvizhkov's lawyer said the court reduced Sdvizhkov's sentence due to "exceptional circumstances," citing the journalist's deteriorating health, his good behaviour in prison, and his elderly mother's poor health.

Although IFEX members welcome the ruling, they remain concerned that the "politically motivated" conviction was not overturned.

"This decision by the Supreme Court lets our colleague out of jail, but unfortunately the conviction stands," says the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). "It also means that Belarus journalists may be jailed for their work in future, which is not acceptable. This threat should be removed."

Sdvizhkov was convicted during a closed-door trial in January on charges of inciting religious hatred for re-printing the Mohammad cartoons in 2006. He was sentenced to three years in a high-security prison.

According to CPJ, local journalists say the prosecution was motivated less by religious sensitivity than by a desire to silence a critical newspaper in the weeks before a presidential election. "Zgoda", which had drawn official anger for covering an opposition candidate in the March 2006 presidential election, was closed down a week before the vote.

In a separate case, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reports that activist and journalist Andrei Klimau was freed on 15 February, well before completion of a two-year jail sentence. Klimau was jailed for trying to overthrow the government after he wrote articles critical of the authorities that were published on the Internet. RSF says his early release appears to be a government gesture aimed at improving relations with the EU.

Visit these links:
- CPJ:
- IFJ:
- RSF:
(4 March 2008)

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