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Belarusian poet and politician Uladzimer Nyaklyaeu

MINSK -- A court in Belarus has sent opposition leader Uladzimer Nyaklyaeu to jail for 10 days after ruling that he made calls for an illegal public gathering.

The Lenin District Court in Minsk ruled on November 1 that Nyaklyaeu's words in an interview with BelSAT television on October 16, when he said that "if there is a need to defend somebody's rights, it is necessary to go out of the houses and defend them," qualified as calls to hold a public event without permission from the authorities.

Nyaklyaeu was expressing his opinion about an antigovernment protest that was being planned for October 21. He did not attend.

Nyaklyaeu, a prominent poet and former presidential candidate, was given a two-year suspended sentence for his role in a December 2010 protest against the disputed reelection of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

His incarceration comes two days after another opposition leader and former presidential candidate, Mikalay Statkevich, was detained in Minsk.

Statkevich's wife said on October 31 that her husband was placed in a detention center in the capital to serve a five-day jail term stemming from a ruling that he took part in an unsanctioned rally on September 8.

Statkevich's arrest came a day before he had been scheduled to travel to Kyiv, where he was expected to speak at the session of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly -- a forum linking the European Parliament and the parliaments of Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia that was established to promote closer political and economic ties.

A controversial law tightening restrictions on the Internet comes in force in Russia on November 1, months ahead of a March 2018 election that is widely expected to hand President Vladimir Putin a new six-year term.

The law signed by Putin on July 29 prohibits the use of Internet proxy services including virtual private networks (VPNs).

The law was promoted by lawmakers who said it was needed to prevent the spread of extremist material and ideas.

Critics say Putin's government often uses such arguments to justify the suppression of dissent.

Under the law, Internet providers will be ordered to block websites that offer VPNs and other proxy services. Russians frequently use such websites to access blocked content by routing connections through servers abroad.

Another Internet law that Putin signed the same day comes into force on January 1. It will require operators of instant messaging services, such as messenger apps, to establish the identity of those using the services by their phone numbers.

That law will also require operators to restrict access to users upon the request of the authorities if the users are disseminating content deemed illegal in Russia.

Russian authorities in recent years have escalated efforts to prosecute Internet users for online content deemed extremist or insulting to religious believers.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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