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Belarus: Presidential decree increasing Internet control could affect freedom of expression
On 1 February 2010, the Belarusian President, Aliaksandr Lukashenka, signed a decree on “Measures for Revising Use of the National Segment of the World Wide Web” that will come into force on 1 July 2010 and could seriously affect the right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press in the country.
According to point 4 of this decree, Internet resources in Belarus will be controlled by an Operating and Analytical Center (OAC) run by the special services of the President of the Republic. The Center will be used to control the country’s Internet providers. The OAC, in agreement with the President of the Republic of Belarus, will decide which telecommunication operators can directly access international telecommunication systems and authorised Internet providers.
Furthermore, the decree calls on Internet providers in Belarus to store data on individuals' use of the Internet for a full year and to hand that information over to law-enforcement agencies upon request (point 6). It also requires Internet service providers to block access to any website within 24 hours of being asked to do so by government regulators (point 11). Point 12 of the decree also establishes individual responsibility for any information posted on the Belarusian Internet.
In an interview with the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Lutz Guellner, the spokesman of High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Ms Catherine Ashton, said that the decree was "a step in the wrong direction" at a time when Brussels is trying to gradually increase its engagement with Belarus in the framework of the Eastern Partnership program.
Internet resources in the Republic of Belarus represent the main source of independent information in a situation where all electronic media and the most important newspapers are under State control. The presidential decree of February 2010 gives State agencies the power to shut down any unwanted Internet media, in particular during the presidential campaign in 2011. The implementation of this decree could affect the work of human rights defenders in Belarus as it could restrict the free flow of information and could be used to track down human rights defenders who are critical of the government.
Front Line believes that the presidential decree of 1 February 2010 violates the right to freedom of the media and that the implementation of this decree will have a negative effect on the work of journalists and human rights defenders in Belarus.