Internet Censorship in the Authoritarian Belarus

To be precise, the Belarusian officials have not yet approved the introduction of additional measures to regulate Internet in Belarus. However, Belarusian independent media have published a realistic draft of the document and the document has been discussed by the government.

Introduction of this new regulation would give the regime in Minsk additional instruments to regulate the last area of free speech in the country, which the Internet indeed is. The number of internet users in Belarus is relatively high (the official number is over three millions). In fact, an average Belarusian internet user is generally not too interested in politics and opposition websites, but nevertheless the potential auditorium for on-line oppositional media is quite significant.

Another question is whether the officials would actually use the instruments for real repressions, which may seem less likely considering the closer ties with EU. Still, self-censorship has become a common practice in the Belarusian information sphere. Knowing that one is being identified and traced by officials, both readers and writers will be much more cautious and less willing to risk being sanctioned for viewing websites criticizing the regime. This is the sad reality of a European country, just 2 hours flight away from Berlin, in the early 21st century.

The authoritarian Belarus is introducing censorship on the Internet in the coming days, about a year before the presidential election. In the future, websites and Internet users would be strictly controlled by the government and a special unit of the Presidential Administration.

The Moscow newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported it on Monday. Labeled by human rights activists as Europe’s last dictator, President Aliaksandr Lukašenka has previously been criticizing “anarchy on the Internet”. In early 2011 presidential elections are scheduled to take place in the former Soviet republic, where Lukašenka wants to win again.

The Internet has so far been the last place to express independent opinion in Belarus. The opposition is afraid to stay without media access during the upcoming elections. The government in Minsk’s had further tightened the already strict media laws this year. In Belarus, Lukašenka’s chief ideologist Aleh Praliaskoŭski has recently been appointed as media minister.

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Alexander Čajčyc is a PhD candidate at the Financial University under the Government of the Russian Federation in Moscow.

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