Three more news websites were made inaccessible to users in Belarus on October 28 by order of the country’s information ministry.
The sites are those of Belarus’ newspaper Novy Čas, as well as of Germany’s international broadcaster Deutsche Welle and of Current Time TV, a Russian-language television channel launched by U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty with participation of Voice of America.
In an interview with the Belarusian government’s news agency BelTA, First Deputy Information Minister Andrej Kuncevič explained that the websites offered links to content designated as “extremist” by Belarusian courts.
He noted that such actions ran counter to Article 19 of the Anti-Extremism Law and Article 38 of the Media Law.
“The information ministry, within its powers, will continue to monitor compliance with national regulations and intends to continue to make decisions aimed at protecting the country's information space,” Mr. Kuncevič said.
Dozens of news websites have been blocked in Belarus following the August 2020 presidential election.
The website of the Novy Čas newspaper, novychas.by, became inaccessible to users on Thursday after being blocked by the country’s authorities. The decision has been made by the information ministry, according to a message that appears on the screen when one tries to go to the website.
“We had expected that. Probably, it is our turn now. It is very symbolic that we have been blocked on the eve of the Night of Executed Poets,” Novy Čas Editor in Chief Aksana Kolb told BelaPAN, referring to the commemoration of the mass killing of Belarusian literary figures by Stalin’s secret police on the night between October 29 and 30, 1937.
“But one cannot kill a word, stop a thought and destroy freedom. We will survive this,” she added.
Ms. Kolb said that she was not going to seek clarification from the information ministry as its answers were already known.
Deputy Editor in Chief Siarhiej Puĺša said that the newspaper’s technical staff had spent over an hour trying to find out why the website had become inaccessible and eventually concluded that it could have been blocked. Their conclusions were later confirmed by a hosting company that said that the website must have been blocked by the Presidential Administration’s Operations and Analysis Center.
“This is surprising for us because we have received neither calls, nor warnings, nor notifications that we have violated something from the information ministry or other government agencies. But it is a standard situation. We have been ready for this for a long time,” said Mr. Puĺša.
The website’s mirror, novychas.online, is still accessible to users.
On the morning of October 20, law enforcement officers raided the office of Novy Čas and the homes of Ms. Kolb and Mr. Puĺša, seizing equipment. Ms. Kolb was also questioned at the Minsk office of the Investigative Committee. The two journalists gave a written pledge not to disclose any details of the case.
The day before that, a search was conducted at the home of Novy Čas photojournalist Dzmitryj Dzmitryjeŭ. All his equipment was seized. Since the start of protests against the official results of Belarus’ August 2020 presidential election, Mr. Dzmitryjeŭ, a former police officer, has served five jail terms.