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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.

Mikalay Statkevich attends a rally to commemorate victims of Stalin's political repressions outside KGB headquarters in Minsk on October 29.

MINSK -- Prominent Belarusian opposition leader and former presidential candidate Mikalay Statkevich has been detained in Minsk, his wife says.

Maryna Adamovich told RFE/RL that her husband was on his way home in Minsk late on October 30. She said the authorities had not told her why he was detained or where he was being held.

Statkevich's detainment came a day after he took part in a rally in front of Belarusian KGB headquarters to commemorate victims of the Soviet government.

It also 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.

Statkevich has now been detained six times since January 2017, and has spent 34 days in jail in the last 10 months.

Statkevich ran against Belarus's authoritarian president, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, in the 2010 presidential election.

Lukashenka, in office since 1994, was reelected in a vote that his critics say was rigged.

Statkevich was arrested after attending a large demonstration protesting the election results, and spent five years in prison after being convicted of organizing riots at a trial criticized by human rights groups and Western governments.

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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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