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Internet freedom under attack

The Belarusian government is rigidly monitoring every element of Internet use and tightening its grip on independent news of any kind, report the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Authorities have established new legislation for extensive control over Internet content and access - and censorship at the highest level.

Ordinance No. 60, "On measures for improving use of the national Internet network," was signed by President Alexander Lukashenka on 1 February and took effect on 1 July. It orders Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to register with the communication and information ministry and provide technical details about online information resources, networks and systems. The decree calls for ISPs to identify all the devices (including computers and mobile phones) that are being used to connect to the Internet - which allows the government to control online access.

Internet users will be under strict surveillance with provisions that will discourage them from visiting independent or opposition websites. Anyone going online in an Internet café or using a shared connection (for example, in an apartment building) must identify themselves. Internet providers must now collect information about websites visited by users.

The decree also stipulates that a "Centre of Operations and Analysis," connected to the President's office, will be responsible for monitoring content before it is put online - setting up censorship at the top-most level of government. In addition, if the centre orders the closure of a website, it must be carried out by the ISP within 24 hours.

"These campaigns of intimidation have been growing as a presidential election approaches. They must be brought to an end to permit the pluralistic debate and criticism that are necessary for any free election," said RSF.

Nine members of the National Bolshevik Party (Nazbol) held a demonstration in Minsk on 23 June, wearing T-shirts with the words "Internet Freedom." They were all arrested and convicted of violating procedures for holding demonstrations.

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