154 out of 173 in the latest worldwide index
Area: 207,600 sq. km.
Languages: Russian, Byelorussian
Head of state: Alexander Lukachenko, since July 1994
This country, dubbed “Europe’s last dictatorship” is headed by the former president of the Supreme Soviet of Belarus, who keeps a tight grip on society and the press. A burgeoning Internet has only recently come to the attention of the censoring authorities.
The authorities adopted a new media law in August 2008 that came into force at the start of 2009. It lays down that all media must re-register during the year and provide details of their activities. Harsher sanctions were put in place to punish any breach and the information ministry and prosecutors now have the power to suspend any media that publishes “inappropriate” news. One new measure prevents the media from receiving any financial aid from international bodies.
Contributors to foreign and especially Polish media continue to suffer official harassment. Searches and refused accreditation are commonplace problems for journalists on Radio Racyja, European Radio for Belarus and Belsat television. This hounding of the media is one of the cornerstones of the drive to curb press freedom. Combined with its monopoly on the printing and distribution network, the authorities can prevent a publication from appearing. Some of those censored in this way are printed abroad, including in Poland, but if copies are seized they are routinely destroyed. This happened to an edition of the historical magazine Arch.
There were signs of a timid liberalisation. Journalist Alyaksandr Zdvizhku, editor of the weekly Zhoda who published the cartoons of the prophet Mohammed that originated in Denmark in 2005, was released early after his sentence was reduced from three years to three months. Two newspapers, Narodnaya Volya and Nasha Niva, which had been removed from the official distribution network, signed contracts putting them back on catalogue for mail subscriptions at the post office, Belpochta. The independent weekly and bi-weekly, critical of the government can also be sold on newsstands and by the state-run newspaper sales monopoly, Belsayuzdruk. However around a score of other titles are still blacklisted.
The blogosphere, which has developed rapidly over the past few years, has now been targeted by the authorities, who have said they drew inspiration from the Chinese model of fighting “anarchy” on the Web. In February, Andrei Klimau the first opposition figure to be tried for an online article was released from prison. He had been sentenced to two years in August 2007.