A woman uses her mobile phone in downtown Minsk on November 15, 2019.
© 2019 Sergei GAPON / AFP via Getty Images
On April 5, Belarus’s prosecutor general announced that Human Rights Watch’s website had been blocked, following an order by the Minsk City Prosecutor’s office. At the time of writing, Human Rights Watch had not received official notification providing grounds for this decision, nor did the announcement provide any reasoning. Nevertheless, access to the website now appears to be blocked in Belarus.
Article 51.1 of Belarusian law “On Mass Media” tasks the Minsk City Prosecutor with restricting access to websites that disseminate extremist information and information damaging the national interests of Belarus.
The blocking comes days after Human Rights Watch published a report documenting several apparent war crimes by Russian forces in Ukraine, including eyewitness testimony about the summary execution of a man in the town of Bucha.
Belarus is one of very few countries openly supporting Russia’s full-scale invasion in Ukraine. Authorities allow Russian troops to use Belarusian territory, including for missile launches. On February 27, authorities held a referendum amending the constitution to allow the deployment of Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus.
Like their counterparts in Russia, Belarusian authorities show zero tolerance for any forms of anti-war sentiment. Since the war began, authorities have detained hundreds of peaceful anti-war protesters.
Belarusian authorities have blocked several independent media outlets over war reporting, citing the spread of “extremist materials” and “false information.”
On April 5, an internet provider in Belarus temporarily blocked access to Belarusian outlet brestnote.by, following a request by Russia’s prosecutor general’s office. Access was restored after the website deleted an article about Russia’s war in Ukraine. Russian authorities also blocked several independent Belarusian media in Russia.
Blocking access to independent media and websites of human rights organizations is nothing new in Belarus. From August 9 to 12, 2020, authorities severely restricted internet access, attempting to conceal and control information about countrywide, post-election protests and unprecedented police brutality. But after internet was restored, the shock and frustration prompted even stronger public outrage.
Perhaps this is a lesson Belarusian authorities have to learn once again.