The lower house of the Belarusian parliament has approved in its first reading draft amendments to the country’s media law that would tighten control over online news websites and social-media networks.
The draft amendments passed in their initial reading in Belarus’s House of Representatives on April 19 with 98 lawmakers in favor and two opposed, as European lawmakers deplored the harassment of independent media in Belarus.
At least one more reading is needed in Belarus’s lower house of parliament before the draft amendments can enter into force.
The bills under consideration propose companies providing news online to voluntarily register with the Information Ministry as media outlets.
However, individuals would not be allowed to register news websites, and it would be forbidden to use private residences for online media activities.
People working for unregistered online news sites would be denied accreditation and therefore would be unable to turn to Belarusian officials for comments. They would also be denied the right to make audio and video recordings in Belarus.
Also, unregistered media outlets would not enjoy the right to keep their sources of information secret.
The proposed amendments would require news websites to keep data on their servers for at least six months
They would also ban anonymous comments on social-media posts and would allow authorities to block social networks without a court ruling.
On April 19 in Brussels, the European Parliament overwhelmingly approved a resolution urging the Belarusian authorities to “immediately and unconditionally” abandon the proposed bills, saying that they would “threaten freedom of expression.”
The resolution also called for the lifting of the blockage imposed on the independent news website Charter97.org, and for an end to “the persecution of independent bloggers for practicing free expression.”
Rights groups and Western governments have accused the government of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who has maintained power since 1994, of systemically quashing independent media, political opposition, and civil society groups.