Belarus controls online traffic, blocks sites and monitors its students

October 28, 2005

The Times Higher examines how some countries restrict freedom on the internet

E-mail and mobile phones played vital roles in the Rose and Orange revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine, but the Government of Belarus keeps them too closely under control to be of use.

Alaksandr Lukashenka, President of Belarus, is alert to the threat of the internet and has introduced regulations ensuring that all information websites operating in the country are registered and subject to state control. Internet cafe users must show their IDs, and official guidelines require university staff to monitor students' use of websites.

In practice, monitoring is patchy. But the knowledge such rules exist makes students feel - as one put it - "insecure" about using university computers.

All internet traffic and access to external channels of communication is controlled by the state telecommunications company Beltelekom. And the Belarusian KGB has already blocked internet sites and mobile telephone networks. During the presidential elections of 2001, it blocked access to more than 50 pro-democracy and human-rights sites.

Now the authorities are considering a law on the state regulation of the internet, to come into force before the presidential elections next summer.

But the clampdown has already started. In August, the KGB raided the homes of three student activists from the Third Way democratic opposition movement, founded by students of the Minsk-based European Humanities University. The three set up a website, http:///mult.3dway.org , containing short animated satirical cartoons about Belarus. The KGB alleged the material besmirched President Lukashenka's "honour and dignity", an offence punishable by up to five years in prison. The three disobeyed orders by their interrogators not to leave Minsk, and fled to Ukraine to relaunch the site there.

Academics and students turn to non-Belarusian web addresses to avert KGB interest. But the Belarusian Charter-97 human-rights group claims plans are under way for a link-up between the security services of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan to monitor opposition websites and exchange addresses of opposition internet users and to ban internet broadcasting from "over the border" sites.

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