Belarus Internet news sites shut down to protest new press controls
A group of independent Belarusian Internet
news sites shut down Wednesday to protest new laws tightening government
control over the media, reported dpa.
More than a dozen websites - one of the few sources of independently-reported news in the authoritarian former Soviet republic - placed a black banner on their home pages for one hour and disabled links, the Belapan news agency reported.
The temporary shutdown making the sites unusable was "a symbol of the funeral of press rights in Belarus", according to Olga Babak, spokeswoman for the Belarusian Association of Journalists.
Belarus' parliament on Tuesday passed into law media regulations extending an obligation to register with the government, and so submit to state censorship, to IP owners and web site operators.
Belarusian law prior to the vote imposed strict controls on most media including mandatory jail terms for criticising the government, but had omitted mention of the Internet - a loophole exploited by independent media attempting to report news different from the state- controlled media.
Aleksander Statikevich, editor of the independent newspaper Solidarnost predicted further crack downs against the press, saying the government "will not listen to journalists in an case. The authorities know exactly what they are doing."
Belarusian President Oleksander Lukashenko in recent months has cracked down on Belarus' embattled independent media.
Pressure tactics have included detentions and arrests of reporters, tax audits of independent media companies, and even mass theft of newspaper issues critical of the government.