Cybercafes owners forced to turn in customers

Reporters Without Borders condemned a decree adopted by the council of ministers which forces owners of cybercafes and Internet clubs to report Internet-users looking at illegal websites to the police.

The new law, approved on 10 February 2007, also obliges proprietors to record the last year of Internet navigation on their computers.

"On the pretext of wanting to monitor pornographic or violent websites, the Belarus authorities are really seeking to censor opposition websites and independent media" the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

"The decree will force cybercafe proprietors to turn themselves into police officers. Internet-users will be pushed into self-censorship and none of them will dare to go on to websites which displease the authorities."

"Moreover, since the state already has a monopoly on Internet access, through the company Beltelekom, cybercafes were the last resort of anyone wanting to post critical news without risk of arrest," the organisation added.

The government said the step was needed to fight Internet crime, but in Belarus criticising President Alexander Lukashenko or other members of the government is considered a serious offence punishable by a prison sentence. Internet-users have to present ID when they go to a cybercafe.

Information Minister, Uladzimir Rusakievich, said on 31 January 2007, that an Internet law was being drafted. "We do not want to prevent the development of the Internet, but it is our duty to innovate in this field," he said.

Belarus is on Reporters Without Borders' list of the 13 enemies of the Internet