Those who subscribe to three of the most popular opposition social networks face up to seven years in prison.
The Belarusian Interior Ministry has classified three of the country’s most popular opposition social media channels as “extremist” organizations, meaning people can face up to seven years in prison for doing so. subscribers.
Social media channels such as Telegram Messenger were widely used during mass protests against President Alexander Lukashenko last year to coordinate protests and share footage of violent police crackdown.
“The Interior Ministry has taken the decision to recognize a group of citizens carrying out extremist activities via the Telegram channels NEXTA, NEXTA-Live and LUXTA, an extremist organization and banning its activities,” the ministry said in a statement on Friday. .
The media NEXTA, run by a Belarusian exile in Poland, has three channels on Telegram, including NEXTA Live, which has nearly a million subscribers in a country of 9.5 million people.
Previously, anyone who reposted NEXTA material faced a 30-day fine or detention. But the new classification means subscribers could be prosecuted for participating in an “extremist” organization and jailed for up to seven years.
“1.4 million more extremists have appeared in Belarus today,” NEXTA wrote in a tweet. “The Ministry of the Interior recognized the telegram channels NEXTA, NEXTA Live and LUXTA as“ extremist formations ”. This means that criminal proceedings can be brought against creators, administrators and subscribers in #Belarus. “
Deutsche Welle blocked
Meanwhile, on Friday, Germany criticized what it called Belarus blocking the news site of German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle, urging Minsk to restore access “immediately”.
The German ambassador in Minsk examined the complaint with the Belarusian Foreign Ministry and requested that the decision be overturned, a spokeswoman for the German Foreign Ministry said.
Deutsche Welle said in a statement that access to its online services was hampered by the Belarusian Ministry of Information.
The broadcaster said the Belarusian government explained the move, which also targeted other media, by claiming that Deutsche Welle published “extremist” content.
Deutsche Welle chief executive Peter Limbourg called the accusations “absolutely ridiculous” in a statement.
The broadcaster said it had significantly expanded its offer in Belarus so that it “can cover the activities of civil society”.
Protests erupted last year after a presidential election which Lukashenko opponents say was blatantly rigged to keep the veteran leader in power.
Tens of thousands of people have been arrested and human rights activists say more than 800 people have now been jailed as political prisoners since the protests.
Authorities recently retaliated against citizens who voice their dissent online. Hundreds of people have been arrested and face prison terms for making disrespectful comments about a KGB officer who died in a shooting in Minsk last month.