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Belarus Internet restrictions take effect

Internet restrictions [Law 317-3 text, in Russian] passed in February 2010 are set to go into effect in Belarus on Friday, amid international criticism. The law creates several tiers of limitations on the Internet. Anyone who owns a shared connection, or a CyberCafe, must monitor all users to insure that they do not visit a "blacklisted" site, or, in some cases, simply a site hosted off of Belarus servers. Users are required to identify themselves, and the owners of shared connections must keep a surfing history of each user for at least a year. Violations of any of these provisions may result in fines. The State Inspection on Electronic Communications, a subsidiary of the Ministry of Communications and Informatization [official website] will issue the blacklist, which thus far includes pornography, websites that advocate violence or extremism, opposition group websites and some Belarusian news organizations. The law largely deals with the fines and penalties for those designated to monitor networks and is ambiguous on what will be done to users who manage to see restricted material. Reporters without Borders [advocacy website] condemned [press release] the new law, describing it as, "a survival reflex on the part of a government weakened by the unrest that followed President Lukashenko's disputed re-election."

Belarus has been under increasing criticism for what many see as a rapid decline of human rights in the Eastern European nation. US President Barack Obama [official website] on Tuesday signed the Belarus Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2011 [JURIST report], which will impose new sanctions on Belarus. The new sanctions require the US to investigate Belarus' arms deals and its possible censorship of the Internet, as well as denying visas to a list of Belarusian officials. In November a Belarus court convicted [JURIST report] human rights activist Ales Bialiatski, the president of Viasana and vice-president of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) [advocacy websites], of tax evasion, sentencing him to a four-and-a-half-year prison term amid international criticism. In September UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] suggested a need for UN intervention in Belarus [JURIST report] and demanded the nation free non-violent political prisoners. Her report also cited Belarus as the only European nation to still enforce the death penalty. Ambassador Mikhail Khvostov said his country disagrees with the UN on what constitutes a peaceful demonstration and that Belarus is committed to human rights.

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