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Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has called on Belarusian lawmakers to reject proposed laws that could “further censor” the media in the country.

The New York-based media watchdog made the call in a statement on June 8, two days after Belarus’s Prosecutor-General Alyaksandr Kanyuk said his office was drafting legislation that would enable the state to prosecute people suspected of spreading "false" information on the Internet.

Such a bill was "necessary" to prevent libel and curb the spread of false information that "turns public opinion upside down, which leads to big consequences," Kanyuk told reporters in Minsk on June 6, adding that "the Introduction of a hefty fine or criminal prosecution is not ruled out."

Separately, Belarus’s lower house of parliament is considering amendments to the media law that would strengthen government control over media and the Internet.

In April, lawmakers gave preliminary approval to the amendments that would require that authors of all posts and comments in online forums be identified and that comments be moderated by website owners.

It would allow for social networks and other sites to be blocked if found in violation.

Critics say they fear authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's government would use the law as a tool to tighten control over the Internet.

CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said the Belarusian government has “jumped on the bandwagon of 'fake news' not because it wants to shield citizens from falsehoods but because it wants more power to decide what information they receive."

"We call on parliament to reject these thinly veiled attempts at tightening censorship," she added.

Belarus ranks 155th in the Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders’s (RSF) 2017 World Press Freedom Index, which evaluates the level of press freedom in 180 countries each year.

Protesters hold posters depicting political prisoners during an opposition rally in Moscow on June 10.

MOSCOW – Demonstrators have taken to the center of Moscow to protest against mass violations of human rights in Russia and to call for the release of political prisoners.

Participants in the rally, dubbed For Free Russia Without Repression And Arbitrariness, gathered on Moscow’s Sakharov Avenue on June 10, two days ahead of Russia Day, a patriotic holiday, and as the country prepares to host the World Cup soccer competition from June 14 to July 15.

Police said about 1,700 people participated in the demonstration, which was authorized by Moscow's authorities, while organizers put the number at up to 5,000.

Some protesters carried a huge banner bearing a portrait of Oleh Sentsov, a Ukrainian filmmaker, who opposed Moscow’s 2014 seizure of Crimea and is now on a hunger strike in a Russian prison colony.

Sentsov has been on hunger strike since May 14, demanding that Russia release 64 Ukrainian citizens that he considers political prisoners.

According to the independent police-monitoring group OVD-Info, two people were arrested, including activist Darya Polyudova, who in August 2014 became the first person in Russia to be charged under a law on separatism that came into force in May 2014.

Sentenced to two years in prison in 2015, Polyudova was declared a prisoner of conscience by the Russian rights group Memorial.

Ahead of the Moscow protest, veteran human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov, a harsh critic of President Vladimir Putin, said the purpose of the demonstration was "to draw public attention to the catastrophic situation in the country with violations of the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens."

The rally was attended by opposition figures such as Gennady Gudkov and Sergei Udaltsov and rights defenders including Svetlana Gannushkina.

Last month, Putin was sworn in to a six-year fourth term following a landslide election that foes said was marred by fraud and international observers said did not present voters with a genuine choice.

With reporting by Interfax

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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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