New Belarus laws to tighten control over Internet

Minsk - New laws under consideration by the Belarusian parliament will substantially tighten government control over the Internet and other news sources, media rights officials said Wednesay.

Belarus' parliament passed an initial reading of a bill making mandatory the registration of any Belarusian news source with the central government, and making illegal the publishing of information to the public without registration.

The law will apply conventional media, and also online services of existing mass media, and independent web sites, said Lilia Anatich, an Information Ministry spokeswoman.

The new controls would place under government control one of the few surviving independent source of information to Belarusians, and constitutes "a deadly danger" to free speech, officials from the Belarusian Journalists' Union said.

Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko, a former collective farm boss, maintains almost total control over the countries media.

Currently, only Internet sites, a very few newspapers, and foreign news reports via radio or more rarely television make public news about Belarus, not previously approved by Lukashenko's government.

The new media code also gives the government the ability to ban any web site found by the state to be harmful to Belarusian interests.

The clause if enforced would be a serious blow to the already-weak opposition in Belarus, as many of Lukashenko opponents are younger, well-educated Belarusians familiar with accessing the Internet for information about their country, and even where and when to go demonstrate. (dpa)