Belarusian law enforcement has released a list of Telegram channels that are now considered extremist and warned people that simply joining them would be punishable by up to seven years in prison.
The announcement follows the approval of a new resolution titled “On Measures to Counter Extremism and Rehabilitation of Nazism” by the Belarusian Council of Ministers, giving ultimate repressive powers to the Main Directorate of the fight against organized crime (GUBOP).
GUBOP warns that simply subscribing to and playing any content from these extremist Telegram channels would violate Article 361-1 of the country’s penal code, punishable by up to seven years’ imprisonment. deprivation of liberty.
The agency published a list of over 100 banned channels (1, 2) on a Telegram channel operated by law enforcement
This announcement was followed by a wave of massive churns to banned channels by terrified users who feared legal trouble.
Repression on the Nexta Live network
The list includes a Telegram channel for Nexta Live with over a million subscribers, making it possibly the most notable of the banned channels.
An anonymous network of journalists and local activists who oppose the Lukashenko regime operates this channel and is considered one of the few independent sources of information that the Belarusian people can trust.
In May, Belarus shocked the world by intercepting a RyanAir flight between Greece and Lithuania, forcing it to land in Minsk and arresting journalist Roman Protasevich, co-founder of Nexta Live.
As such, the targeting of its Telegram channel by the government is not surprising.
Belarusian citizens who wish to access independent sources of information are now required to use anonymization tools such as VPNs or proxies to hide their IP address from authorities.
While it is likely that GUBOP will not imprison all Telegram group participants in the chains listed, some may be arrested and prosecuted to serve as an example.
In response to those who argue that no one will be prosecuted for reading messages on banned channels, GUBOP today issued the following warning:
“For those who are” just interested “, the scenario is worse, since the fact of participating or not participating will already be a process of interaction with the police. Simply put, when detained, they will have to prove their innocence to extremist groups, as regular reading of publications in extremist resources is not a professional activity, so the story of “just reading” will become one. procedural matter. “- GUBOP.