15 December 2018, Saturday, 6:27
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Lukashenka Has No Chance In War Against World Wide Web

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Only recently did the authorities realize the power of the Internet.

The Ministry of Information of Belarus has finished public discussion of the document, which offers to identify participants of Internet forums by phone numbers. The authorities remained deaf to the critical remarks of the public. The new rules will come in force as early as December 1, 2018, writes ng.ru.

The changes in question are provided for in the new edition of the media law. The document introduces many innovations that relate to the activities of Internet resources. In particular, the term "network publications" will appear in the legislation, and in order to work in the status of the media, they will have to undergo the same registration procedure as traditional mass media.

Only legal entities can act as founders of an editorial office of an Internet publication, and only those specialists who have at least five years of experience in managing media work can head them. All Internet resources must have output data - addresses, telephones and information about the managing board. The most odious and controversial norm, in the opinion of the expert community, is the requirement to identify all forum participants and simply commentators. The government was instructed to develop a mechanism for the implementation of this difficult decision via the media law.

The document was being prepared in the depths of state bodies all summer long and finally on September 7 it was published for public discussion. To the surprise of the local community, the discussion lasted only 10 days.

Yesterday, the website of the Ministry of Information posted a message that the discussion was over. The specialists of the Ministry recognized 10 applications out of 16 as not containing proposals or containing proposals "not related to the subject of legal regulation of the project under discussion". They promised to analyze the remaining appeals tduring the finalization of the document.

The draft government resolution assumes that only those who provided their data (name, gender, date and place of birth, e-mail address and telephone number), and received a confirmation text message, will be able to comment on the Internet.

Owners of Internet resources will be required to store all this information and share it with the bodies "carrying out operational search activities", the prosecutor's office and the preliminary investigation, the State Control Committee, the Ministry of Information, the tax inspectorates and the courts. Even if a forum member delete their account, the information about them should be kept for another six months.

At the stage of preparation of the draft law on the media, the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) took the most active part in its discussion. However, neither then nor now the authorities listened to the opinions of its representatives and experts. "We called on the Ministry to hold a discussion with a wider range of people, to meet separately, rather than just presenting the document on the Internet. Unfortunately, they did not listen to us, "said BAJ chairman Andrei Bastunets.

Experts, in turn, put new demands at the same level as the already notorious "case of the Belta news agency", in which arrests and searches affected leading Internet resources. Belarusian authorities seem to have missed the explosion of new media.

After Lukashenka won the presidential election in 1991, the sector of printed media, radio and television were quickly taken under tight control. The non-state press was almost mopped up, independent newspapers in the regions can be counted by the fingers. The unwanted radio stations were finished …

As for the Internet, the big bosses long looked at through their fingers, disdainfully condescending. They called it garbage without proper understanding. They thought: "Ah, well, there is a handful of freaks from the" fifth column" idling in this World Wide Web, who will never become our electorate anyway," political observer Aliaksandr Klaskouski commentes on the case.

Only very recently, the authorities realized that they "deal with a phenomenon that is dangerous for political principles," the expert believes. At the same time, two important political campaigns are at stake: presidential and parliamentary elections. Therefore, they launched these unprecedented, in fact, measures to take control of the restless Internet space, before these campaigns start.

However, experts do not assess the chances of the Belarusian authorities to defeat the World Wide Web as high. Especially it concerns social networks. "Blocking social networks is a thankless occupation, millions of Belarusians have already got into them, one can piss off a large layer of the electorate, and first of all young people," believes Aliaksandr Klaskouski. In addition, "reprisals against unwanted Internet segments somehow do not harmonize with the ambitious goal of creating an IT-country here," he adds.

The experts turned to another consequence of repressive measures against the Internet. Presenting their next issue on Monday, they noted that "the BelTA case" has launched a new wave of negative reaction in the EU to domestic political reality in Belarus. True, it has slightly declined, but the criminal case is not yet closed, and odious rules on identification have not yet come into force.