Censorship
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Belarus 🇧🇾 is an Eastern European country which mostly practices Christianity. Censorship is pervasive since Alexander Lukashenko took power in 1994.

General censorship[]

Although censorship is prohibited by the country's constitution, is enforced by a number of laws. These include a law that makes insulting the president punishable by up to five years in prison, and another that makes criticising Belarus abroad punishable by up to two years in prison.

Freedom of the press in Belarus is still extremely restricted. State-owned media are subordinated to the president and harassment and censorship of independent media are routine. Both independent and foreign media are subject to systematic political intimidation from the government, especially for reporting on the deteriorating economy and human rights abuses. Journalists are harassed and detained for reporting on unauthorised demonstrations or working with unregistered media outlets. Journalists have been killed in suspicious circumstances. Most local independent outlets regularly practice self-censorship.

Belarus is ranked 154th out of 178 countries by Reporters Without Borders in its 2010 Press Freedom Index. In the 2011 Freedom House Freedom of the Press report, Belarus scored 92 on a scale from 10 (most free) to 99 (least free), due to the Lukashenko regime systematically curtailing press freedom. This score placed Belarus 9th from the bottom of the 196 countries included in the report and earned the country a "Not Free" status. In 2021, after a year-long purge on independent media by Lukashenko regime, the country dropped down to the 158th place in the PFI rating.

The Ministry of Information of Belarus was established in 2001 and serves as Belarus' media regulator. Licensing and registration procedures are opaque and politicised. Since 2009 all media outlets, including websites, need to register or face blockage. Independent publications have been forced to use foreign-based internet domains. Outlets that "threaten the interests of the state" can also be denied accreditation and shut down.

The government established in February 2009 a Public Coordination Council in Sphere of the Mass Information, aimed at: co-ordination of interaction of state management, public associations and other organisations carrying out activities in the sphere of mass information; maintenance of correct application of the law on mass media and other legislation in sphere of mass information; consideration of the questions as issues from applications to the law on mass media.

Since December 2014, websites can be blocked without court order after two warnings within 12 months. Mass media status was expanded and liability for contents was widened to include user comments too.

A state commission was established in August 2014 to evaluate whether media outlets contain "extremist" materials, passible to a ban under a 2007 counter-extremism law.

During 2020 Belarusian protests, Belarusian edition of Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper failed to print three editions, and Narodnaja Volya failed to print one newspaper edition (both newspapers had a contract with the government-controlled printing house). The Belarusian association of journalists stated that the real cause was not technical troubles, but an attempt to block information about the protests and violations of human rights. Two other independent newspapers (Belgazeta and Svobodnye Novosti) also were unable to print new editions in Belarus. New editions of Komsomolskaya Pravda and Narodnaja Volya were printed in Russia, but the state network of newsstands "Belsoyuzpechat'" denied to take them for sale. These newspapers also reported that the post service delayed the delivery by subscription.

In January 2021, Brestskaya Gazeta was forced to stop issuing printed newspaper. In July 2021, Nasha Niva newspaper was forced to stop activity in Belarus after arrests of its editors. In July 2021, Maladziechna-based "Rehiyanalnaya hazieta" (Belarusian: Рэгіянальная газета, Regional newspaper) announced that it was forced to stop issuing printed newspaper after searches and interrogation of its employees. In June 2021, Belposhta refused to distribute Novy Chas by subscription, and in August 2021, Novy Chas announced that it was forced to cease issuing printed newspapers due to refusal of all companies to print it.

The Ministry of Information gave warning to 34 media outlets in 2015 alone. Since an outlet receiving two note in a year can be closed this is seen as a way to encourage self-censorship by the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ).

Another thing that pushes journalists to self-censorship is the enormous amount of the defamation fines and payments to officials that can be inflicted by courts. In 2010 the President issued the decree #60 which "provides for registration of all Internet resources, creation of black lists of the web-sites access to which should be blocked, and a number of other restrictive measure". Even if not all of them are used, after that "some popular Internet-media became more cautious and softened their criticism of the government".

Book censorship[]

Film censorship[]

  • The Dictator - this comedy film by Sasha Baron Cohen is banned in Belarus. Even it doesn't explicitly mention the Eastern European country, it is likely the government saw too many parallels between the eponymous character, General Aladeen, and the country's president Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994.
  • Child 44 - this film was withdrawn from local cinemas, presumably for the same reasons as Russia.

Television censorship[]

The state maintains a virtual monopoly on domestic broadcast media, only the state media broadcasts nationwide, and the content of smaller television and radio stations is tightly restricted. The government has banned most independent and opposition newspapers from being distributed by the state-owned postal and kiosk systems, forcing the papers to sell directly from their newsrooms and use volunteers to deliver copies, but authorities sometimes harass and arrest the private distributors.

The Russian media is allowed to transmit television programming, sell newspapers and conduct journalistic activities in Belarus (though some Russian journalists have been expelled by the Belarusian government), thus giving some members of the public, typically those in large cities with many Russian residents, access to an alternative point of view in the Russian language (nearly all Belarusians understand and most of them speak Russian). Several opposition media outlets broadcast from nearby countries to provide Belarusians alternative points of view. This includes the Belsat TV station and European Radio for Belarus (Eŭrapéjskaje Rádyjo dla Biełarúsi).

In 2014–2015, twelve freelance journalists were fined for working with foreign media (including Belarusian-language media based in the EU) without official state accreditation from the Foreign Ministry, as foreseen by Article 22.9(2) of the Belarusian Code on Administrative Offence. Journalists were fined several hundreds of euros for having published through foreign media, rather than based on the content of their work. Computer equipments were also seized. The journalists fined had published on Polish-based Belsat TV, Deutsche Welle. Procedural guarantees, including the hearing of witnesses in court, were reportedly not followed by Belarusian authorities, but appeals were rejected. The prosecution of freelancers was condemned by the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), which deemed it a gross violation of the standards of freedom of expression, as well as by the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media and by the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ). Since April 2014, 38 freelance journalists have been fined €200-500, totalling over €8,000 - some of them being repeatedly prosecuted and fined.

In 2012, Belarusian largest state network MTIS stopped broadcasting of Euronews for unknown reasons. Euronews was the last independent TV channel available in Belarus.

Internet censorship[]

In 2006, 2007, and 2008 Reporters Without Borders (RWB) listed Belarus as an "Internet enemy". In 2009 Belarus moved to RWB's countries "under surveillance" list where it remained in 2010 and 2011. In 2012 Belarus was moved back to the RWB list of Internet Enemies.

The OpenNet Initiative classified Internet filtering in Belarus as selective in the political, social, conflict/security and Internet tools areas in November 2010.

The Belarus government has moved to second- and third-generation controls to manage its national information space. Control over the Internet is centralised with the government-owned Beltelecom managing the country's Internet gateway. Regulation is heavy with strong state involvement in the telecommunications and media market. Most users who post online media practice a degree of self-censorship prompted by fears of regulatory prosecution. The president has established a strong and elaborate information security policy and has declared his intention to exercise strict control over the Internet under the pretext of national security. The political climate is repressive and opposition leaders and independent journalists are frequently detained and prosecuted.

A new media law that took effect in February 2009 requires domestic and international websites to register with the Information Ministry or be blocked. In August 2010, the Prosecutor General's Office announced its intention to toughen criminal penalties for the dissemination of slanderous information through the Internet. Since 2007, Internet cafe owners have been required to keep records of their customers’ identities and the websites they visit, facilitating inspection by the security services.

On January 6, 2012, a law took effect requiring that all commercial websites selling goods or services to Belarusian citizens to be operated from within the country and under a .by domain name. Moreover, those who provide Internet access (including ISPs and Wi-Fi hotspot operators) must register all users, and they must also censor websites on a blacklist covering pornography and other extremist websites.

Bloggers and online journalism used to be almost free, although limited to a very narrow audience; the government has started censoring the web too, since internet penetration has started growing.

In March 2014 Beltelecom blocked the Nasha Niva newspaper website – possibly as a test for the upcoming 2015 presidential elections.

On August 8, 2020, the Internet site afn.by (Agency of Financial News) was blocked by the Ministry of Information for unknown reasons.

On August 9, 2020, during the 2020 Belarusian presidential election and later, protests against Lukashenko-reelection, the Internet in Belarus was partially blocked. According to the government officials, the reason was heavy DDoS-attack, but the independent IT specialists claimed that Belarusian state Internet monopoly Beltelecom and affiliated state agencies deliberately used Deep packet inspection (DPI) technology or traffic shaping.

On 21 August, 72 or 73 web sites were blocked in Belarus, including several independent news portals (Radio Liberty/Free Europe in Belarus svaboda.org, by.tribuna.com sport news, euroradio.fm, belsat.eu, gazetaby.com, the-village.me/news and others), electoral sites of Tsepkalo and Babaryko, "Golos" and "Zubr" platforms, spring96.org human rights portal, several VPN services. Euroradio.fm was ranked 118th most popular site in Belarus, svaboda.org — 133rd, gazetaby.com — 148th, belsat.eu — 158th, tribuna.com — 167th, udf.by — 318th.

On 28 August, Nasha Niva and naviny.by news web sites were blocked in Belarus.

On 18 May 2021, the most popular independent news site tut.by was de facto closed by the government: its Internet domain was blocked, the servers were shut off, the main office was sealed. Tut.by management was accused of tax evasion and 15 employees were detained including journalists unrelated to financial issues of the company. On October 28, 2021, all 32 languages versions of Deutsche Welle websites have been blocked in Belarus.

On 11 March 2022, GUBOPiK, the Belarusian Main Directorate for Combatting Organized Crime and Corruption, detained Wikipedia editor Mark Bernstein in Minsk. Pro-government Telegram channels published a video recording of Bernstein's detention and accused him of spreading fake "anti-Russian" information in relation to the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine on Wikipedia.

On 7 April 2022, local court in Brest sentenced active Wikipedia user Pavel Pernikaŭ to 2 years of prison for 3 edits in Wikipedia about censorship of Belarus and deaths during 2020 protests: 2 edits in Russian and 1 edit in Belarusian (Taraškievica). He was found guilty of "committing acts that discredit the Republic of Belarus" (article 369-1 of the Criminal Code of Belarus).

DDoS cyberattacks have been reported, on the upcoming to the 2015 Presidential election, to the websites of the websites of BelaPAN news agency (Belapan.com and Naviny.by) and web portal TUT.by, after they published a critical article about students ordered to attend official events. The Belarusian Association of Journalists has expressed concern.

  • In July 2014 the EuroBelarus website reported a cyberattack, possibly related to its coverage of the Ukraine conflict.
  • On 19 December 2014 several Belarusian websites were blocked, including Belapan.by, Naviny.by, Belaruspartisan.org, Charter97.org, Gazetaby.com, Zautra.by, UDF.by. The block extended within 2015.

External links[]

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