Belarus announces further internet restrictions

The AP wires have been flooded by reports out of the Belarus capital, Minsk, of the latest in a string of moves by President Alexander Lukashenko to toughen controls over the internet. Fresh on the heels of the Dec. 14 draft decree for Measures Revising Use of the National Segment of the World Wide Web, President Lukashenko said identification and registration of all web users and publications would now be mandatory in an effort to curtail online dissidence and oposition.

Lukashenko said that the denial of online anonymity will create accountability. Speaking at a press conference, he stated, "we will make so that a person spreading the truth, dirt, and other things won't be anonymous, people must answer if they violate the law."

As has been reported in recent weeks, internet providers have complained that independent websites have been shut down, particularly in weeks leading up to elections going as far back as several years. Last summer, a media bill was passed which allowed the government to close websites without warning. Belarus' widely respected human rights group, Charter97, is pleading with their online readers to gather in Minsk for a demonstration against the recent bill. Comparing it to a Belorusian version of China's internet restrictions, reminds their readers that they, themselves, may no longer be able to operate within Belarus.

Though far from a nation with ubiquitous internet usage, 2007 saw tremendous inroads in people's access to the internet with nearly 57% of the population utilizing it- that up from 25% in 2005 and a paltry 2% in 2000.

Often referring to himself as a "man of the people", Lukashenko has more notably been referred to as "Europe's last dictator" in his vast efforts to curb domestic opposition through imprisonment, restrictions and strict media controls. The EU imposed sanctions on Belarus in response to his strong-armed tactics which were only recently lifted. With elections to come in 2011, many of Lukashenko's critics believe this latest move has been carefully orchestrated in preparation of a guaranteed vote.

Glimpsing the Russian language speaking blogosphere, a slew of slogans like "Freedom must be contended for" and "Dictator vs. Internet" prevail amidst those in support of stricter internet usage. The days ahead will be ones to watch for internet privacy advocates, human rights activists and, of course, Belorusians themselves.


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