• Population: 9,940,000
  • Internet users: 809,000 (2002)
  • Average charge for 20 hours of connection: 10 euros
  • DAI*: 0.49
  • Situation**: difficult

The Internet is an efficient source of independent news in a country where traditional media are under constant government pressure and online material is not censored much. The main concern is about the state monopoly on access to the Internet, which helps the government to censor it.

Belarus has only one ISP, Beltelekom, controlled by the telecommunications ministry, so all traffic passes through it, including that of about 30 local firms which have been granted licences to use its facilities. The government knows how to use this arrangement, as shown on the eve of the September 2001 presidential election when Beltelekom blocked access to the websites of the country's main independent newspapers and human rights groups because of a supposedly technical problem. They became accessible again after the election results were announced.

A website blocked

The www.batke.net site was blocked inside the country on 13 June 2003, apparently by order of the secret police and probably because it had posted the text of a book criticising President Alexander Lukashenko, which the foreign ministry called "political pornography" but which nearly 4,000 people were able to download before the site was blocked.

Attempt to regulate cybercafés

Minsk city officials asked cybercafé owners in April 2003 to check the passports of customers as part of fighting terrorism and cybercrime, but very few complied. Local technical experts said no filtering was done in cybercafés, whose computers kept a normal record of websites visited but with no names of users attached.

Journalist convicted for posting articles online

Journalist and human rights activist Natalya Kaliada was fined 160 euros on 2 February 2004 for posting material on the website of the Charter 97 human rights group website (www.charter97.org), which is not recognised by the authorities, who had investigated the legality of its publications. The group's activities had been declared illegal by deputy prosecutor-general Paval Radzivonaw, who it had frequently criticised as one of those most responsible for cracking down on local media.

The website has been a regular target of technical attacks, including hundreds of thousands of simultaneous visits that overloaded the server and blocked access to the site. Charter 97 said the government was behind them as part of its effort to gag its political opponents.

IREX/Promedia office closed

The foreign ministry refused on 7 July to renew the accreditation of Robert Ortega, head of the Minsk office of the US International Research and Exchange Board (IREX-Promedia), which organises training seminars for journalists, provides free access to the Internet, hosts the websites of about 30 independent newspapers and makes extensive photo and written archives available to the media.

IREX was accused of "irregular" activities and Ortega accused the government of making a political decision as part of persistent efforts to curb the independent media. The organisation shut down its operations on 7 August.


* The DAI (Digital Access Index) has been devised by the International Telecommunications Union to measure the access of a country's inhabitants to information and communication technology. It ranges from 0 (none at all) to 1 (complete access).

** Assessment of the situation in each country (good, middling, difficult, serious) is based on murders, imprisonment or harassment of cyber-dissidents or journalists, censorship of news sites, existence of independent news sites, existence of independent ISPs and deliberately high connection charges.


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