The authorities of Belarus plan to apply tighter control over the Internet.
“The Belarusian authorities expanded their control over digital communications of country's citizens. Few people realise that the regime has opportunities to control almost all actions of Belarusian citizens on the Internet,” Andrei Aliaksandrau, the Index on Censorship's manager on Belarus and the OSCE region, said commenting on the report “Belarus: Pulling the Plug” released by Index on Censorship on January 4, BelaPAN news agency reports.
The report notes that Belarus has one of the worst records on freedom of expression. New digital technologies, in particular the Internet, have provided new opportunities for freedom of expression but have also given the authoritarian regime “new tools to silence free voices and track down dissent”. As the Internet has become an increasingly important source of information, the Belarus authorities have used a variety of different means to control it. Keeping a tight rein on information remains at the core of their policy of self-preservation.
The report explores the main challenges to digital free speech in Belarus, concentrating in particular on the ways the state authorities restrict freedom of expression online.
Firstly, it is done by applying a repressive legal framework, including draconian laws such as criminal libel, legal prosecution and the misapplication of the administrative code. Secondly, free speech is restricted by the use of new techniques, such as online surveillance, website blocking and filtering, and cyber-attacks against independent websites and content manipulation.
The research says that new legislation gives the authorities wide powers to censor online content, in particular on the catch-all grounds of “distribution of illegal information”, and to implement mass surveillance of citizens’ activities online.