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The news that Komsomolskaya Pravda's Belarusian website has been blocked comes after the print version of the newspaper was also banned in Belarus last year. (file photo)

MINSK – Belarus's Information Ministry has blocked access to the website of the Belarusian version of the popular Russian tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda.

The ministry justified its September 29 decision by saying materials on the site "could produce threats to national security, including through the artificial irritation of tensions and conflicts in society."

The publication posted on its Telegram channel that it had not received official notification that its site, which receives about 20,000 visitors a day, had been blocked.

Belarus has been in the throes of a political standoff since a disputed presidential election in August 2020 handed a sixth term to authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

Massive protests following the election were met by an often-brutal crackdown by security forces, while prominent nongovernmental organizations and independent media were closed.

The move against Komsomolskaya Pravda's website came after the website published on September 28 comments by an acquaintance of Andrey Zeltsar, a Minsk resident who some opposition figures have identified as the man who was shot dead by security forces in a shoot-out in the capital.

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Pro-government Telegram channels harshly attacked the woman’s comments, after which the website reportedly made changes to the text.

In 2020, the print version of the newspaper was banned in Belarus.

“The country is becoming more and more like a besieged fortress,” said Vladimir Sungorkin, the longtime editor in chief of the Russian Komsomolskaya Pravda.

"It's getting tougher, tougher, and tougher there," he added.

Mediazona publisher Pyotr Verzilov is one of 22 individuals who have also been added to Russia's list of 'foreign agents.' (file photo)

MOSCOW -- The Russian government has designated three prominent information outlets and 22 individuals as "foreign agents," continuing what critics say is a broad crackdown on independent media and civic organizations.

The Justice Ministry on September 29 added the parent company of the Mediazona website and the human-rights project Zona Prava to its list of foreign-agent media organizations.

The noncommercial information resource OVD-Info, which monitors the activities of law enforcement organizations, was added to the government’s list of "foreign agent" unregistered organizations.

The Nizhny Novgorod Center for Germanic and European Culture and the Ivanovo Oblast-based Center for Gender Studies were designated "foreign agent" nongovernmental organizations (NGO).

In addition, 22 individuals, including several local coordinators of the independent Golos election-monitoring NGO were also added to the list of "foreign agent" media. Golos itself was added to the list in August.

Mediazona publisher Pyotr Verzilov and its chief editor, Sergei Simonov, were also added to the list.

The Justice Ministry did not offer any explanations for its designations.

OVD-Info has been noted for its coverage of arrests during protests in Russia, while Mediazona specializes in covering Russian courts and the rights of prisoners.

Verzilov was a founding member of the Pussy Riot performance-art group and has been a vocal anti-Kremlin activist.

OVD-Info co-founder Grigory Okhotin said he saw the move as being part of "the pressure campaign against independent organizations and media."

"It’s curious that it happened at the height of the public campaign to abolish the foreign agent legislation, in which OVD-Info was one of the key initiators," Okhotin told the Associated Press.

He added that 222 organizations have joined the campaign so far, and said that “it couldn't have gone unnoticed.”

Russia's "foreign agent" legislation was adopted in 2012 and has been modified repeatedly. It requires NGOs that receive foreign assistance and that the government deems to be engaged in political activity to be registered, to identify themselves as “"foreign agents," and to submit to audits.

Later modifications of the law targeted allegedly foreign-funded media, including RFE/RL's Russian Service, six other RFE/RL Russian-language news services, and Current Time. Several RFE/RL correspondents have also been added to the list.

Human Rights Watch has condemned Russia’s "foreign agent" laws, calling them "another repressive tool the government can use to harass independent groups."

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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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