[JURIST] Belarusian online news services and journalist organizations have denounced a proposed new law [BAJ report] that would restrict online press freedom by requiring news services to register with the government. The House of Representatives of Belarus' National Assembly [official website, English version] approved the "On Mass Media" law Tuesday after its second reading. Belarusian online news sources Wednesday posted black banners and some temporarily stopped posting material in response. The Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) [official website] wrote [press release] that "it is unacceptable to consider and adopt a legal act that infringes upon this fundamental right," protected by articles 33 and 34 of the Belarus constitution [text]. Reporters Without Borders [official website] also criticized the passage, writing [press release]: "The Internet has until now been one of the few spaces where Belarusians could express themselves freely. We fear that censorship will be stepped up." The proposal must be passed by the upper house of the Assembly and then signed by the president before it becomes law. AP has more.
In March, the Belarus KGB [official website] detained at least 16 journalists [JURIST report] and searched their homes and offices for materials that allegedly libeled Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko [official website; BBC profile]. The Belarus Deputy Prosecutor General said that the searches related to an animated Internet cartoon that allegedly insulted Lukashenko and had been broadcast on Belsat TV [media website], a Polish-funded satellite television channel. The BAJ argued that the searches were retaliation for media coverage of anti-Lukashenko protests [JURIST report] in Minsk earlier that week. In 2004 the Council of Europe severely condemned [Resolution 1372 text] the Belarusian government for its oppression of journalists, the Council will again evaluate the status of journalists [BAJ report] in the country following the approval of the proposed law.