Reporters Without Borders today condemned the arrest of writer and political activist Andrei Kilmau on 3 April on a charge of "inciting the regime's overthrow" in an article posted on the Internet in which he was very critical of President Lukashenko and looked at options for changing the political system in Belarus. The organisation is also concerned about a parliamentary committee's bill that could require all online publications to register.
While acknowledging that some of Kilmau's comments were extreme, Reporters Without Borders stresses its opposition to any use of imprisonment as a punishment for the expression of opinions or for press offences.
"This is the first time that an opponent of the Belarusian government has been arrested for an article posted online," the press freedom organisation said. "The charge of 'inciting the regime's overthrow' is being used to silence a dissident. Kilmau's arrest highlights the almost total control exercised by the government over information in Belarus."
The organisation added: "We also fear that making websites register with the authorities will increase the pressure on independent online public publications, including blogs, and will encourage self-censorship."
Kilmau has been charged under criminal code article 361 for the essay he posted on the website of the Union for a Civic Party on 25 January. Article 361 punishes any "appeal for subversion or change of the constitutional system of the Republic of Belarus, or for accomplishment of crimes against the state, public appeals for violent seizure of power or change of the constitutional system of the Republic of Belarus, or betrayal to state, or accomplishment of terrorist act or sabotage, or distribution of materials, which contain such appeals realized with mass media usage."
Kilmau faces up to five years imprison. He has had several spells in prison in the past including a year and a half in 2005-2006 for organising a demonstration against the government.
The Belarusian press freedom group BAJ held a news conference on 12 April to issue a warning about the parliamentary committee's proposed law on Information, Information Technology and the Protection of Information, which proposes creating a system for registering all media, including online publications. It has not yet been made clear whether registration will be obligatory or just recommended. But such a law is very disturbing in a country such as Belarus, which is on the Reporters Without Borders list of "13 Internet Enemies."