Belarussian journalists and bloggers issued an online protest last Wednesday by not posting anything for an hour or using a black banner, lashing out against the "On Mass Media" law that the government adopted without public hearings
and international expert examinations, Belarussian Association of Journalists (BAJ) reported.
Last Tuesday the House of Representatives of the Belarus National Assembly approved the law after its second reading, Jurist reported. The BAJ said that the law violates the freedoms outlined in articles 33 and 34 of the constitution.
Belarus media outlets are now banned from getting foreign financial backing and are required to register with the government. Reporters Without Borders termed the law as "repressive" and predict that censorship will increase, the Globe
The Committee to Protect Journalists wrote to the Belarus president calling on him to veto a severely restrictive draft media law, which will further curb press freedom conditions in Belarus:
The bill was adopted by the upper chamber of the Belarusian parliament on June 28 and now awaits your consideration.
The bill was rushed through parliament in a few days without ever being made public, and without due discussion, raising doubts about your government's stated intentions to improve the work climate for the press in your country. CPJ research and
interviews with local sources show that the proposed draft aims at nothing but facilitating state agencies to further crack down on Belarus's embattled independent media outlets, and broaden the control of the state over critical news outlets and
their reporters. Furthermore, despite your government's assurances that the new law is not aimed at controlling the Internet, the bill contains provisions that enable state agencies to exercise strict control over information published on the
CPJ joins the Belarusian and international media community in urging you to veto the bill. Here are the provisions we are particularly concerned about:
Article 35 of the new bill gives broad power to various state agencies—on both the local and federal levels—to deny accreditation to individual journalists and their outlets on unidentified grounds. The article prohibits international
journalists from working in Belarus without accreditation.
Control over the Internet
The crackdown on traditional mass media outlets under your administration has turned the Internet into the last refuge for independent journalists, but the proposed draft allows the government to censor the Web. The new bill equates
Internet-based publications with traditional mass media outlets, making them subject to the same restrictions. In addition, Articles 11 and 17 of the bill give extra power to the Council of Ministers to single-handedly deny the registration of
Web news publications, and to restrict the distribution of Internet-based information.
The broadly worded Article 8 bans mass media outlets from accepting money and other donations from international persons and groups, as well as from anonymous sources.
Article 14 requires media outlets to re-register with every technical change, such as a replacement in the founders' board, a change of name of the media outlet, or a change in the editorial staff. The proposed draft also requires that all
media outlets re-register within a year after this new law takes effect (Article 54)—a measure that grants Belarusian authorities the power to deny a license to publish to any outlet they deem undesirable on re-registration.
Under the new bill, the Ministry of Information receives broad authority to suspend media outlets; the ministry and state prosecutors are given the authority to shut down outlets permanently. These state agencies can suspend or close the
outlets if they find their content to be inaccurate, defamatory, “not corresponding to reality,” or “threatening the interests of the state or the public.” The bill leaves the interpretation of these terms in the hands of state authorities.
The Committee to Protect Journalists is troubled to learn that President Alexander Lukashenko has signed a restrictive new media law, which will allow authorities to further restrict press freedom in Belarus.
The Belarusian parliament rushed the bill through in three consecutive readings and passed it to the Constitutional Court for review. According to the local press, the court rubberstamped the bill in July and Lukashenko signed it into law on
Among other provisions, the law equates the Internet with regular media, making sites subject to the same restrictions; bans local media from accepting foreign donations; allows local and state authorities to shutter independent publications for
minor violations; and requires accreditation for all foreign journalists working in the country.
Not content with controlling traditional media, with this legislation, Belarus is now seeking to restrict online publications, said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney: We urge President Lukashenko to reconsider this repressive new law
and, in the meantime, use his influence to ensure that its most restrictive provisions not be used to stifle critical journalists.
Aside from Internet control, the new media law also requires Belarusian and international journalists to seek individual accreditation from multiple state agencies, creating further hurdles. It also obliges Belarusian media to seek
re-registration from state authorities—a process that could be fatal for outlets critical of state officials.
Additionally, under the new law, the Ministry of Information receives broad authority to suspend media outlets; the ministry and state prosecutors are given the authority to shut down outlets permanently. These state agencies can suspend or close
the outlets if they find their content to be inaccurate, defamatory, not corresponding to reality, or threatening the interests of the state or the public. The bill leaves the interpretation of these terms in the hands of state
The international human rights organisation Reporters Without Borders have made a statement of protest expressing their concern over the plans of the Belarusian government to tighten control over Internet.
The matter concerns the decree On Measures for Revising Use of the National Segment of the World Wide Web which appeared in the press on December 14, 2009. The organisation attracts attention to the fact that the freedom of speech in
Belarus is considerably limited even without that.
We must emphasize our concern about this bill, which threatens online free speech and everyone's right to express their views anonymously without fear of government repression, Reporters Without Borders said. After placing most of the
traditional media under its control, the regime is pursuing an offensive against new media.
The press freedom organisation added: The president's attempts to be reassuring cannot hide the repressive nature of this bill, which is liable to make netizens censor themselves. It should be abandoned so that Belarus is not added to the list
of countries such as North Korea, China and Iran that Reporters Without Borders has identified as Enemies of the Internet.
The scandalous internet law proposal mentions blocking websites by the decision of state organs, identification of web users, responsibility for dissemination of information on the web, and state registration of online media.
According to the first version of the decree, hosting of Belarusian websites is obligatory transferred to Belarus, and in order to access internet even in dial-up mode, Belarusians would have to show passport to the provider first.
A new Belarus Internet censorship law will be applied from September 1.
Access restrictions are as follows:
The Belarusian State Telecommunication Inspection makes a list of forbidden websites on the ground of proposals of appropriate governmental bodies. Legal persons, individual entrepreneurs and concerned citizens have the right to help the
governmental bodies to prepare the lists. An IP address, domain name, or an URL may serve as an identifier of a banned Internet resource. If a Belarusian site is included in the black list, the owner will receive a notice about putting the
website on the blocklist.
4. Websites can also be removed from the blacklist. A decision on removal of the Internet resource identifiers from the restriction list must be taken by the governmental body that earlier put the website on the list.
Information aimed at extremist activity, illicit circulation of weapons, ammunition, detonators, explosives, radioactive, contaminating, aggressive, poisonous, and toxic substances, drugs, psychotropic substances, and their precursors;
assisting illegal migration and human trafficking; spreading pornography; promulgating violence, brutality, and other acts prohibited by law is banned