New regulation and recent blockings threaten free speech on Internet in Belarus, says OSCE Representative
VIENNA, 22 December – OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović said today that amendments tightening government control of the Internet in Belarus pose a major threat to free speech and free media. She also pointed to recent blockings of a number of news portals in the country.
“These amendments are based on vaguely formulated legal provisions and give the state the vast right to interfere with any information posted on the Internet,” Mijatović wrote in a letter to the authorities in Belarus on 18 December. “They also impose quasi-censorship functions on disseminators of information”, she said.
Amendments to the law “On Mass Media”, adopted by Parliament on 17 and 18 December and signed by the President on 20 December 2014, include the following elements:
· owners of online resources are responsible for illegal content posted, including material considered to be extremist information or “other information that is capable to make harm to the national interests of the Republic of Belarus”;
· Ministry of Information has the right to compile lists of “disseminators of information materials”, allowing the Ministry to strike those who make available banned “information reports and/or materials”;
· Ministry can block access to online resources without court authorization if two warnings had been issued within 12 months, and the spectrum for reasons to issue warnings has been expanded;
· Banning dissemination of foreign television programmes without prior registration;
· Online reports disputed by any person must be removed the next day and the refutation must be posted in its place.
· Banning foreign ownership of more than 20 percent of the stock or other participation of such kind for any news outlet in Belarus, including online media.
“The Internet should remain a free space for citizens to exchange information and express critical views,” Mijatović said. “The wide interpretation of these new amendments will result in excessive control of online content by the authorities.”
Mijatović noted that the legislation was adopted without proper public consultation. It will go into effect on 1 January 2015.
The Representative also noted that a number of independent online news platforms, including Charter97.org, Naviny.by, Belaruspartisan.org, as well as the website of BelaPAN information agency have been intermittently blocked since 19 December.
The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media observes media developments in all 57 OSCE participating States. She provides early warning on violations of freedom of expression and media freedom and promotes full compliance with OSCE media freedom commitments. Learn more at www.osce.org/fom, Twitter: @OSCE_RFoM and on facebook.com/osce.rfom.