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BAJ demands to stop using anti-extremist legislation to restrict freedom of speech

17.11.2021 Source: BAJ Press Service

STATEMENT

On 1 November 2021, Belarusian KGB recognized the BelaPAN news agency as an extremist formation, and on November 3, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus announced the same status of the Belsat TV channel.

BelaPAN and Belsat are mass media.

Recognition of legal entities as extremist groups implies criminal prosecution under Art. 361 [1] of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus (creation of an extremist formation or participation in it) not only for journalists and heads of these editorial offices, but also readers, subscribers, and followers of these mass media. This is punishable by imprisonment for up to seven or up to ten years.

These decisions of the KGB and the Interior Ministry contradict the norms of both international law the criminal law of Belarus.

In their legal nature, these actions of law enforcement agencies make it possible to prosecute individuals without establishing their guilt, which contradicts Section 4 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus.

The norms of international law stipulate that the limitation of freedom of expression is allowed only when necessary for respect of the rights or reputations of others, for the protection of national security, public order, or public health or morals (Article 19(3) of the ICCPR).

Thus, the mentioned decisions of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the KGB on recognizing media outlets as extremist formations are illegitimate in their legal nature.

Given the above, the Belarusian Association of Journalists DEMANDS:

- To stop the practice of using anti-extremism legislation to illegally restrict freedom of speech.

- To cancel the decisions of the KGB of 1 November 2021 and the Ministry of Internal Affairs of 3 November 2021 on recognizing the BelaPAN news agency and Belsat TV channel as extremist formations.

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