Summary: Belarus's government heavily regulates the internet within its country through its Media Law and often prosecutes citizens who are critical of the government, despite the Constitution's prohibition of censorship. While internet access is pervasive throughout the country, Belarus lacks ISP safe harbors or net neutrality laws. Belarus grants its citizens privacy through its Constitution and regulates data protection through its Information Protection Law, but Belarusian internet users face stringent internet content restrictions. Similar abuses of free speech rights occurred offline as well.
(1) Free speech
The Constitution of Belarus recognizes the freedom of expression in Article 33 [English text]:
- “Everyone is guaranteed the freedom of thoughts and beliefs and their free expression. No one shall be forced to express one’s beliefs or to deny them. No monopolization of the mass media by the State, public associations or individual citizens and no censorship shall be permitted.”
Despite the Constitution's guarantee of free speech and prohibition of censorship in Article 33, the Belarus government has reportedly engaged in numerous instances of internet restrictions. Belarus maintains control over the internet through a government-owned system called Beltelecom, which manages the country’s internet gateway. From 2006 on, Reporters Without Borders has listed Belarus as an “internet enemy” due to its internet filtering and blocking practices as well as its abuses against journalists. Belarus has an extremely restrictive media environment where journalists are reportedly harassed, arrested, fined and even killed. Insulting the president is a crime punishable by up to 5 years in prison and criticizing Belarus abroad is punishable by up to two years in prison.
In December 2014, the Belarusian government passed amendments to the Media Law of 2008 in order to expand the authorities’ ability to restrict internet content. The law allows the Ministry to issue warnings, suspend, and close websites. There is no real recourse for those who have been censored except for the ability to post a message of refutation in place of the blocked content. The Ministry can block access to online sites if two warnings have been issued within twelve months. Further, the Ministry can order sites blocked without warning for any post it deems illegal--or potentially harmful to "national interests." Such illegal content is broadly construed. Accordingly, Belarus has blocked numerous e-commerce and news websites in attempts to limit the spread of state information. Due to the oppressive nature of the country’s media regulation, internet users reportedly self-censor their online postings out of the fear of prosecution.
The Constitution of Belarus protects a right of privacy in Article 28. [English text]:
- “Everyone shall be entitled to protection against unlawful interference with one’s private life, including encroachments on the privacy of one’s correspondence and telephone and other communications, and one’s honour and dignity.”
Despite the protection of privacy, the government reportedly monitors emails and online sites. Further, since 2007, internet café owners have been required to keep records of their customers’ identity and the websites they visit.
Data privacy. The Belarusian regulatory framework for personal data protection is the Information Protection Law which incorporates two key pieces of legislation: (1) The Law of the Republic of Belarus No. 455-Z (10 November 2008) regarding information and (2) The Law of the Republic of Belarus No. 418-Z (21 July 2008), which regulates the sharing of personal data from the Belarusian Population Register. The basic approach is to require websites that collect personal information to do so only based on prior written consent and only with adequate protections for the protection of the personal data.
Belarus does not guarantee a legal right to Internet access. More than half of Belarusian households have internet access and roughly 97% of the country’s companies are connected to the internet. According to 2013 ITU figures, Belarus had a 54.17 % Internet penetration with 5,212,344 users.
ISP safe harbors:
Belarus does not generally recognize ISP safe harbors.
Belarus does not have a law requiring or protecting net neutrality.