Senator: A web site can be closed down if necessary

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The Belarusian lawmakers are reviewing a draft legislation on information, information technologies and the protection of information. The draft contains several provisions that aim to regulate the dissemination of information in the internet. Is this the first step towards censorship?

Andrey Bastunets, a lawyer with the Belarusian Association of Journalists, says many questions remain open.

“On the one hand, the draft writes that the dissemination of information in the internet will be free from restriction. At the same time, it stipulates that the internet-based activities will lie within the Belarusian legal framework”.

What are these boundaries? Mikhail Darashkevich, the director of e-belarus.org project, says the provision which deals with the registration of web-based resources is potentially dangerous to the freedom of information.

“Unfortunately, it stipulates that the registration (of web sites) will be voluntary. But we can assume that the voluntary registration will mean that those who are not registered could be denied access to some events.”

Last year, a regulation was passed stipulating that all the internet shops must have the Belarusian internet domain .by and be hosted in Belarus. Andrey Bastunets is confident regulation of such a global phenomenon like Internet is difficult within the boundaries of one country.

“Some sites can be registered in the other domain zones like org, info, etc. I don’t think that there could be any limitations for that. On the other hand, it is a very big question how those resources, not necessarily created by the Belarusian citizens in Belarus, are going to be controlled”.

Pavel Yakubovich, the editor-in-chief of the presidential newspaper Sovietskaya Belorussia, said recently that resources that are not registered in the BY domain zone would not be given advertisements. Mikhail Darashkevich believes that this signals that a relevant legal provision could emerge.

“I believe that a legal procedure to regulate the internet-based advertising in the Belarus-based resources could be developed”.

In the words of Andrey Bastunets, there is an option that non-Belarus web resources could be banned from selling advertising space. But the question arises again why a Belarusian advertiser cannot give its ads to a foreign internet resource.

“There are many questions. Even technologically, how can those legal regulations be enforced? How is it possible to regulate within just one country?”

Apart from the afore-mentioned discrepancies, experts also point to a huge number of different spheres that the draft aims to control, and to the problem of inaccurate wordings. Mikhail Darashkevich also notes that the draft legislation remains a political symbol used by the government as the threat means.

Mikalay Chahrynets, the Senate’s Foreign Affairs and National Security Committee Chairman, said in a conversation with the European Radio for Belarus that this law is necessary because every country tends to regulates these issues through a legal framework.

“Registration should be looked at as a simple record-keeping. We are not talking about a permissive or prohibitory function. It is just a registration. The internet operation is controlled. If necessary, a web site can be closed down”.