Censorship in Belarus
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Censorship in Belarus, although 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 criticizing Belarus abroad punishable by up to two years in prison.
Freedom of the press
Freedom of the press in Belarus remains extremely restricted. State-owned media are subordinated to the president and harassment and censorship of independent media are routine. The government subjects both independent and foreign media to systematic political intimidation, especially for reporting on the deteriorating economy and human rights abuses. Journalists are harassed and detained for reporting on unauthorized demonstrations or working with unregistered media outlets. Journalists have been killed in suspicious circumstances. Most local independent outlets regularly practice self-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.
However, the relatively free 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 the 2011 Freedom House Freedom of the Press report, Belarus scored 92 on a scale from 10 (most free) to 99 (least free), because the Lukashenko regime systematically curtails 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 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 Belarus government has moved to second- and third-generation controls to manage its national information space. Control over the Internet is centralized 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 December 21, 2011 a new law was enacted which would take effect on January 6, 2012. The law enforces sanctions for violation of the rules prescribed by the Edict No 60 on Regulation of National Segment of Internet, enacted earlier in February 2010. According to the Edict Belarusian legal entities and entrepreneurs selling goods or rendering services to Belarusians online is required to host its websites on the territory of the Republic of Belarus. However, there are no legal obstacles for any Belarusian resident to operate a website under international top-level domain names (.com, .net, etc.) or national domain names of other states (.ru, .ch, it. etc.). Another measure of Internet control enacted by the Edict requires Internet Access Providers to identify Internet users and keep logs for at least one year. Moreover, owners of public Wi-Fi hotspots are obliged to register user's passports before providing Internet access to them. The Edict also requires Internet Access Providers to block access to certain categories of harmful information. Many human rights activists believe the new law was developed in response to the "Revolution Via Social Networks" movement that developed online to organise public actions. Violators of the law will be fined from EUR 32 to EUR 96.
In the past few years, many Belarusian musicians and rock bands have been unofficially banned from radio and television, have had their concert licenses revoked, and have had their interviews censored in the media. Researchers Maya Medich and Lemez Lovas reported in 2006 that "independent music-making in Belarus today is an increasingly difficult and risky enterprise", and that the Belarusian government "puts pressure on ‘unofficial’ musicians - including ‘banning’ from official media and imposing severe restrictions on live performance."
Belarus government policies tend to divide Belarusian musicians into pro-government "official" and pro-democracy "unofficial" camps. Economic barriers have been placed against various artists, leading to self-censorship.
- Maya Medich & Lemez Lovas (31 January 2007). "Music censorship in Belarus (video)". Freemuse, Copenhagen. Retrieved 22 August 2009.
- "The death of Oleg Bebenin", Michael Harris, Index on Censorship, 4 September 2010
- "Country report: Belarus", Freedom of the Press 2011, Freedom House, 21 April 2011
- "Dissent hits Belarus via Warsaw", Gordon Fairclough, Wall Street Journal, 29 January 2011
- Press Freedom Index 2010, Reporters Without Borders, 20 October 2010
- В сети МТИС прекращена трансляция канала "Евроньюс" (in Russian). Naviny.by. 1 January 2012. Retrieved 1 January 2012.
- "В Минске отключают Euronews" (in Russian). Euroradio. 31 December 2011. Retrieved 1 January 2012.
- "Countries under surveillance: Belarus", Reporters Without Borders, March 2011
- Internet Enemies, Reporters Without Borders (Paris), 12 March 2012
- "ONI Country Profile: Belarus", OpenNet Initiative, 18 November 2010
- "In Belarus the freedom of the internet is at stake".
- "Internet regulation in Belarus". Aleksey Ponomarev. Retrieved 16 January 2012.
- Lemez Lovas and Maya Medich (15 February 2007). "Hidden Truths – Music, Politics and Censorship in Lukashenko’s Belarus (Report no. 7)". Freemuse, Copenhagen. p. 88. ISSN 1601-2127. Retrieved 22 August 2009.
- Articles about censorship on Belarus Digest
- Freemuse report
- Belarusian Authorities to start Fighting against Satellite Dishes
- Various articles on music censorship in Belarus
- Belarus Press Freedom official webpage