One of the oldest information-political websites of the Belarusian Internet celebrates its 10th anniversary. On September 11, 1998, first visitors came to charter97.org. Our sincere and profound gratitude to all who worked for the site, and who had been helping our site, to all who had been reading, reads and will read it. Today we look back at milestones of great journey.
Belarusian civil initiative Charter’97 was created on November 10, 1997 on an initiative of journalists of independent media. The Charter was signed by 100 most famous Belarusian human rights activists, scientists, writers, public figures, as well as journalists of independent media. They addressed the people of Belarus calling to sign a document – Charter’97, which objective was turning Belarus into a free, sovereign and flourishing European state, where human rights are observed, there are no political prisoners, where any citizen can count on worthy standard of life.
In the meantime, the Charter’97 press center was created for informing the Belarusians and international public.
In November 1997, Charter text was posted to the website of independent Belorusskaya Delovaya Gazeta weekly (in 2000s newspaper was closed down due to the pressure of the authorities). At the same time the first updating sections about Charter activity, press releases and statements of the organising committee, appeared.
In July 1998, domain charter97.org was registered and the first variant of the website was created.
The website began its work on September 11, 1998. From that time it began its independent life. The sections were updated once a month. Besides press releases on Charter’s activity, visitors could read information about main political events in the country, violations of human rights and freedom of speech, international documents concerning Belarus. Information about people, recognised political prisoners by the international community, was placed in a separate section. An English version of the website was launched and opt-in lists were created. The website charter97.org was in the top-20 of the most attended public and political resources according to Rambler rating that was a rather significant achievement for that time.
At the end of 1998, the Website began to hold first virtual protest actions. For example, in the frames of marking 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Draniki (a popular Almost Political Almost Journalistic Almanac about Life in the Republic of Belarus as its Citizens See it http://www.draniki.com) and the Charter’97 press center implemented a joint project.
Since January 4, 1999, news on charter97.org were updated daily and the appearance of the website was changed. Sections Documents, File, Show Trials appeared on the site. Section Photo Chronicle, an updating photo chronicle of the contemporary Belarusian history, was prepared and launched.
One of the charter’s banners of those times:
A popular search service akavita.by registered our website in its catalogue under N. 43.
On May 30–31, 1999, more than thousand daily unique visitors were registered at the website for the first time. Information and photo of Nyamiha tragedy, presented by Charter website, was used by world leading press and Internet media.
On July 21, 1999, the website carried on its first live Internet transmission from Minsk streets. An action timed to expiry of the first presidential term of Lukashenka was held in the Belarusian capital on that day. Staff of the Charter press center told about the events in the city center in real time mode.
Opposition biggest street demonstrations in 1999–2000, March of Freedom and Charnobyl Way, were transmitted online. Today, most of the information and political Belarusian websites use this practice.
A issue of appearing of new political prisoners, missing opposition politicians and public figures has always been topical on our website.
A protest action “Stop Terror in Belarus!”: “Belarus has faced a wave of terror. Thousands of citizens of the country – politicians, journalists, human rights defenders and activists of political parties and movements, suffer from repressions of the authorities. We require Lukashenka to stop the repressions.”
In 1999-2000, charter97.org organised online conferences with Belarusian politicians, journalists, human rights activists, figures of culture – Andrei Sannikov, Mikola Statkevich, Viktar Hanchar, Mikalai Khalezin, Yury Khashchavatski and others.
In 2000, not only our subscribers but also clients of popular service subscribe.ru began to receive our news.
Blocking of charter97.org on September 9, 2000, during the presidential election became a sign of effectiveness of the Internet as uncensored mass media. Tens of public and political resources covering the election were blocked together with us. Since this time, practice of blocking Belarusian websites has become regular.
“The attack on the Belarusian Internet sites continues. We can say with full certainty now that not a single site covering the Belarusian elections on-line, cannot be reached from Belarus.
Overnight September 8-9 the Security Council ordered the administration of the State Center of Information Security, responsible for domain policy in *.by zone, to remove from DNS information on all sites, that intended to monitor presidential elections in Belarus... Next day they installed a filter for the incoming traffic (there’s state monopoly on exterior channel in Belarus), which obstructed access for all Belarusian users to the sites, covering the elections in Belarus... This is a logical continuation of the astoundingly insolent falsification, unleashed by the authorities, which seem to have realized the impossibility of winning in a fair ballot,” we reported about these events.
One of the site mirrors on the night of Spetember 9-10, 2001: charter97.narod.ru
We were among the first to use video in our work yet before YouTube and similar videoservices appeared. Clips “We Can’t Live Like This!”, which are still acute today, in our view, appeared on the Internet timed to a protest action on April 19, 2002.
By October 2002, about 50.000 people per month visited charter97.org that was a serious achievement for that time. The website was read in more than 80 countries of the world.
In 2003 the website was able to continue its work only thanks to the support of our readers. We are thankful to all our friends who helped us in difficult times, when the non-commercial project charter97.org, like many other independent media, was deprived of donor support. Thanks to you, patriots of Belarus, our website managed to survive and go on its activity.
In autumn 2003, the Charter’s website became the first Belarusian website to be broadcasted by news service news.yandex.ru.
In 2004–2005, the Belarusian authorities began active work on preventing spreading of alternative information via the Internet. During weekly protest actions after the “parliamentary election” and referendum 2004, which were broadcasted on the Internet, access of the Belarusians to opposition and information websites was restricted again. In order to suppress independent electronic media, suppress freedom of speech in the virtual space, working out and discussing of special amendments to the Law on Media was begun.
In 2006, not only readers of the Internet-edition, but also common users felt pressure of the authorities. After the March presidential election, when a protest action Square was taking place, access to independent information services was blocked for the Belarusians against. When the attempts of covering the events were made in LJ blogs, this opportunity was terminated.
In autumn 2007, the today’s website design was developed and launched. The new version is focused on increased interactivity, improved photo- and videocontent, improved usability.
The Charter’s website has its clear position concerning the events in the country. We think there should be enough websites representing different viewpoints on the Belarusian Internet. Any person has an opportunity to choose resources, which positions are close to his or her ones. A number of visitors and popularity of our site mean that our viewpoint finds support of many people.
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers,” article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says.
We believe that freedom of speech in our country must be alive, and do our best for it. We have gained tens of thousands of readers in Belarus and all over the world, who became our friends, during 10 years. The Charter’s website has been and is among the leading Belarusian informational and political Internet-resources. You have read our materials and shared your news, agreed with us and criticised us. Together we lived in hard for Belarus times and were gratified in successes.
We express our sincere profound gratitude to those who worked for us, helped our website and everyone who read, is reading and will read it.
For our freedom and yours!
Staff of charter97.org