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Belarus Restricts Access To Opposition Website Charter 97

The Charter 97 website currently can't be reached via most Internet providers in Belarus.
The Charter 97 website currently can't be reached via most Internet providers in Belarus.

The Belarusian government has partially blocked access to the opposition website Charter 97, a move condemned by the site's editor as an attack on the freedom of speech.

In a January 25 statement, the Information Ministry accused Charter 97 of publishing "information that is banned from distribution by law."

It did not describe the information in question but called on all media outlets "to strictly follow laws on the media."

Charter 97 chief editor Natallya Radzina told RFE/RL that the government's steps to block the site were politically motivated.

"It is obvious that the final destruction of the freedom of speech is under way in Belarus as the country's most popular independent, opposition site is under attack," Radzina said.

The site became inaccessible through the majority of Internet providers in Belarus on January 24.

Radzina, who received political asylum in Lithuania in 2011, said the site's staff would do everything possible to make it accessible.

The independent site, which focuses on human rights and opposition causes, was named after Charter 97 -- a 1997 declaration calling for democracy in Belarus that was signed by journalists, opposition politicians, and rights activists.

In 2011, it suffered a massive hacking attack that deleted archives and posted fake news on the website.

The founder of the Charter 97 declaration, Aleh Byabenin, was found hanged in his house near Minsk in September 2010.

Authorities ruled it a suicide, but Byabenin's colleagues have said there was no indication Byabenin was planning to commit suicide, and that there were no messages or notes left behind.

Belarus-born journalist Pavel Sheremet, who was a spokesman for the organization behind Charter 97, was killed in a car bombing in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, in July 2016.

Rights groups say President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who was first elected in 1994, has systematically stifled dissenting voices and held onto power through elections and referendums deemed undemocratic by Western governments.

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