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Laws in Belarus limiting Internet freedom

Media laws in the eastern European state of Belarus are making it increasingly difficult for journalists and netizens to operate freely on the Internet.

In more autocratic states, the government likes to maintain a strong hold on the media. For many reasons, news outlets can act as a sort of pulse for an entire nation, reporting on how citizens feel on certain issues. Conversely, it can also help shape public opinion. One news outlet's take on a certain event compared to a different media company can portray very different stories.

When the government has control over these capabilities, it can dictate how certain stories are portrayed, or even worse, whether or not certain events are reported on in the first place. This can be a severe limit to free speech, especially as news reporting continues to move online and the lines between citizen and journalist blur. In Belarus, this is becoming an increasingly pressing issue as the government tightens its control over the media.

Mass media laws
The Index on Censorship reported that the Belarus government passed laws in 2008 that took affect in 2009 that implemented limitations online and in the press. The laws required that media outlets apply for permission to register with the government and receive approval before the can operate. However, the approval process that the government uses is unclear and not obtaining approval can limit the journalists' access to information. On top of this, the government is allowed to regulate media activities on the Internet, without much clarity as to what this means.

This has led to a number of limitations throughout the country, according to the news source. Between 2010 and 2012, the government issued 180 warnings, two of which almost led to full-on shut downs. But even if the government doesn't shut down a news outlet, these organizations may be prone to self-censorship so as to make sure they do not violate existing rules.

Online arrests more targeted
Freedom House has deemed the Internet climate in Belarus as one that is "not free." While Internet user arrests have declined, between 2012 and 2013, they are now more focused. The organization noted that the government is singling out online activists and their detentions more closely linked to their online activity.

On top of this, those in power blocked the website Change.org, possible in order to block a petition in the country. These kinds of policies need to be reversed if the country is to see a freer Internet, as it should be used as a medium to promote free expression, not suppress it.

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