Blocking of Charter-97 further attack on freedom of speech in Belarus, HRDs say
The Ministry of Information has announced official reasons for its decision to restrict access to the charter97.org website, saying the resource was spreading information that could harm the national interests of Belarus, as well as violating the Law on Mass Events and publishing materials that were recognized as extremist. The grounds for blocking the website was Article 38 of the Law “On Mass Media”, which has been repeatedly criticized by human rights activists as discriminatory and undemocratic.
The Human Rights Center "Viasna" is concerned over the recent developments in the Belarusian media space. Human rights activists believe that the blocking of Charter-97 is excessive restriction on the right to freedom of expression. This is a flagrant violation of the country’s international obligations in the field of freedom of speech, the activists say.
“These recent steps by the authorities are an alarming signal. Charter-97 has always taken an uncompromising stance, they’ve had their own vision of the socio-political events in Belarus, which sometimes triggered significant debates. This position certainly has the right to exist. If the Belarusian society wants to receive diverse pluralistic information, we should cherish the right to freedom of expression,” Ales Bialiatski, chairman of the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, said in a comment. “I will add that the website has suffered a lot from the Belarusian authorities: its offices have been searched and equipment seized, staff beaten and imprisoned, chief editor and journalists faced criminal charges and finally ousted from the country. But despite this the website has managed to resume its work. As before, the authoritarian government views Charter-97 as a potentially dangerous resource for the current regime.”
“We remember that a few years ago there were attempts to restrict the dissemination of information by Charter-97, belaruspartisan.org and some other websites, which were blacklisted by the authorities. And here again, after the lifting of the sanctions, when the relationship with the West is beginning to improve and the Belarusian authorities are beginning to feel confident at the international level, they have resumed their attacks on freedom of speech, apparently hoping that the international community's response to such unpopular actions will be insignificant,” Bialiatski said.
In 2017, the situation with the persecution of independent journalists in Belarus deteriorated sharply, according to Viasna’s annual Human Rights Review. The persecution of charter97.org is a disturbing and natural continuation of this process. According to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, in 2017 there were almost 200 cases of harassment of independent journalists linked to the performance of their professional activities. Repression against independent journalists has been continued in 2018.
“The media space in Belarus is heavily trimmed, and is heavily controlled by the state. In Belarus, there is no independent television, no independent radio. And government censorship and pressure has finally reached the Internet, which is abnormal. We call on the Belarusian authorities and personally on the Information Minister to stop the persecution of independent voices. We will continue to urge both the Belarusian society and the international community to exert pressure on the Belarusian authorities. In today's world, the Belarusians have the right to receive unbiased and comprehensive information,” Viasna’s leader said.