“Aliaksandr Lukashenka has significantly expanded his government’s control over the Internet in the last two years. Few people in Belarus realise the level of state surveillance now being carried out by Lukashenka’s security services. This poses a huge threat to Internet activists in Belarus,” Andrey Aliaksandrau, Index’s Belarus programme manager, said.
Belarus has one of the most hostile media environments in the world and one of the worst records on freedom of expression, the latest report on Belarus released by Index on Censorship states. “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,” the report says. According to the experts, keeping a tight rein on information remains at the core of their policy of self-preservation.
This 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”.
Index on Censorship calls on the government of Belarus to stop all disproportionate and unnecessary legal and extrajudicial practices, online and offline, that compromise freedom of expression. They call for immediate reforms to be launched to ensure free speech, as outlined in the conclusions and recommendations chapter of the report.
The European Union (EU), its member states and other European bodies, such as the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), should further push the Belarus government to respect human rights in general and freedom of expression in particular and call for immediate reforms to facilitate the development of Belarus as a democratic state, the report reads.
Index on Censorship is a campaigning publishing organisation for freedom of expression, which produces an award-winning quarterly magazine of the same name from London. Through its campaigns, the organisation challenge threats to free expression and give a voice to journalists, writers, artists and activists who have been prevented from speaking out. For the last years Index on Censorship has been deeply involved in the Belarusian issue giving special attenton to curbs on free speech in the country.