The Belarusian Ministry of Internal Affairs announced Thursday new media restrictions that may result in citizens who subscribe to “extremist” social media channels receiving up to seven years imprisonment.
The Main Directorate for Fighting Organized Crime (GUBOP), a ministerial body in the country, announced that generalists sites that include extremist activities, including encrypted communication platforms like Telegram, would now be deemed as extremist. Telegram, a messenger and subscription site, attracts around one million subscribers. The Directorate stated that “subscribers to extremist Telegram channels and chats will be held criminally liable.” Those accused of such activities will be classified as taking part in “extremist formations,” and subscribers will face prosecution under Article 361 of the Belarus Criminal Code, covering “harm to the county’s sovereign.”
The law comes as a response to the August 2020 protests, where thousands protested against President Alexander Lukashenko and the election results. The protests led to more than 800 people being arrested and held in jail as “political prisoners,” which authorities blamed material shared around from the Telegram app. However, representatives of NEXTA, a channel on Telegram, released a statement criticizing the new restrictions. They accused s GUBOP of “scaring” people from reading the content. They also stated that contrary to what GUBOP said, the proposed legislation, expected to be implemented in October, fails to mention “criminal liability.”