Belarus Imposes Tougher Restrictions On Internet Use

MINSK, Belarus (AP)--Belarussian authorities have toughened restrictions on Internet usage, obliging owners of Internet cafes and computer clubs to keep logs of accessed Web sites and report them to security services, officials said Thursday.

The Cabinet said the measures were needed to counter crimes committed online, but critics said authorities were imposing further limitations on freedom of speech in this tightly controlled ex-Soviet republic.

Under the new government order, Internet cafes and computer clubs will be barred from allowing users to access games and Web sites containing scenes considered pornographic or violent.

Users will also be banned from disseminating what a cabinet statement on the restrictions referred to as forbidden information. Criticizing President Alexander Lukashenko and other senior officials is a criminal offense in Belarus.

Internet usage is already subject to restrictions: Belarussians must present identification documents to use Internet cafes, and Internet access for offices and private users is controlled by a state monopoly.

Lukashenko has been dubbed Europe's last dictator by Western governments that have banned him from entering their territory because of his suppression of dissent in the nation of 10 million, whose government has shut independent newspapers and arrested opponents.