Not Free
A Obstacles to Access 12 25
B Limits on Content 10 35
C Violations of User Rights 6 40
Last Year's Score & Status
31 100 Not Free
Scores are based on a scale of 0 (least free) to 100 (most free). See the research methodology and report acknowledgements.

header1 Overview

Internet freedom in Belarus deteriorated further during the coverage period. While the government did not repeat its previous shutdowns of internet service, it continued an intense campaign to suppress online dissent. Authorities blocked access to independent media outlets, foreign news sites, and materials deemed “extremist.” Although virtually all nonstate media outlets were forced to close or leave the country, independent Belarusian outlets operating from exile disseminated their content via social media and messaging applications. In the context of an ongoing political crisis and the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the government stepped up its arbitrary arrests of media workers, bloggers, online activists, and ordinary users, imposing unprecedented prison sentences on those detained. Security forces conducted raids, employed torture, and released forced confession videos to deter and silence critical speech. The impact of war and international sanctions on public opinion compelled the government to sharply increase its propaganda and manipulation of the information environment.

Belarus is a consolidated authoritarian state ruled by Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who first took office as president in 1994. Elections are openly orchestrated, and civil liberties are tightly restricted. Since 2020, when Lukashenka’s fraudulent reelection prompted mass protests, the regime has depended on support from Moscow to maintain its grip on power, and the country’s overall human rights situation has declined precipitously. Tens of thousands of people have been arrested, and as many as 200,000 Belarusians may have emigrated since the crackdown began. As of May 2022, more than 5,000 criminal cases had been opened, and the Viasna Human Rights Center, a Belarusian civil society organization, had recognized more than 1,200 political prisoners in the country, including at least 27 media workers.

header2 Key Developments, June 1, 2021 – May 31, 2022

  • A purge of independent media outlets and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the mass blocking of websites—including those of news outlets that now operate from abroad (see B1)—resulted in greater government control over and less diversity in the country’s online information space. Virtually all major independent news outlets inside Belarus were shut down (see B7).
  • The government introduced new legislation and expanded its laws on extremism to further restrict online content (see B2). The legal changes significantly increased the penalties faced by journalists, bloggers, and ordinary users for their online activity (see C2).
  • More than 300 journalists left Belarus because of the threat of government persecution, and those remaining in the country engaged in greater self-censorship amid an atmosphere of severe intimidation (see B4).
  • During its domestic crackdown and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Belarusian government intensified its propaganda and manipulation of information (see B5), prompting organized pushback from civil society (see B8). The war also led to a sharp increase in cyberattacks against government websites (see C8).
  • While many online outlets that have relocated outside of Belarus continue to attract an audience in the country, a new tax on advertising and the deteriorating economy negatively affected the news industry (see B6).
  • The authorities continued to arrest and prosecute hundreds of journalists, media workers, bloggers, and ordinary internet users, imposing prison sentences ranging from 13 to 18 years on several bloggers and journalists who were initially arrested in 2020 (see C3).
  • Security forces raided the homes of journalists and bloggers, continued to employ torture against those detained for criticizing the government online, and increased their use of forced “repentant videos” to humiliate and marginalize critical voices (see C7).

A Obstacles to Access

A1 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Do infrastructural limitations restrict access to the internet or the speed and quality of internet connections? 5.005 6.006

Users in Belarus benefit from the country’s well-developed information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure. Access to the internet has increased in recent years, as the government has sought to foster economic growth and garner international prestige by promoting the ICT sector.1 According to official statistics, almost 86.9 percent of the population was online by the end of 2021.2 Datareportal reported that Belarus’s penetration rate at the start of 2022 was 85.1 percent.3

Belarus maintains high fixed- and mobile-broadband penetration rates. According to official statistics, by the end of 2021, the number of users accessing the internet via these connections reached 3.2 and 9.1 million, respectively, out of the country’s approximately 9.4 million people.4 According to 2021 data from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Belarus had a fixed broadband penetration rate of 33.8 percent and a mobile broadband penetration rate of 94.5 percent.5

As of May 2022, the median mobile broadband download speed was 10.1 Megabits per second (Mbps), and the median fixed broadband download speed was 47.9 Mbps.6

Officially, “cellular telecommunications services” cover almost 99 percent of the country.7 Fourth-generation (4G) long-term evolution (LTE) services, offered by mobile providers via the state-run Belarusian Cloud Technologies (beCloud),8 the sole owner of 4G infrastructure, reached more than 76 percent of the territory and 97 percent of the population at the beginning of 2022.9 Fifth-generation (5G) networks were still in the testing phase at the end of the coverage period.

Among fixed broadband connections, gigabit passive optical network (GPON) fiber-optic technology continues to replace older DSL (digital subscriber line) technology. Belarus is among Europe’s leaders in terms of penetration rates for household fiber-optic communication lines.10 The number of GPON subscribers topped 2.838 million by the end of 2021.11

A2 1.00-3.00 pts0-3 pts
Is access to the internet prohibitively expensive or beyond the reach of certain segments of the population for geographical, social, or other reasons? 2.002 3.003

Internet access in Belarus remains affordable. In 2021, the ITU found that 2 GB of mobile data cost 0.76 percent of the gross national income (GNI) per capita, and 5 GB of fixed broadband data cost 0.83 percent of GNI per capita.1

Some digital inequalities persist, but they are narrowing. Nearly 89.9 percent of urban residents are internet users, compared with 76.9 percent of rural residents.2 Minsk continues to be much better connected than the rest of the country.3 UN Children’s Fund statistics from 2019 showed that only 37.5 percent of the poorest fifth of households had a computer, compared with 99.1 percent of the wealthiest fifth of households.4

As of 2020, only about 36.9 percent of the population aged 65 or older used the internet.5 However, since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the political crisis stemming from the fraudulent presidential election later the same year, older people are reportedly seeking information online more often.6 More Belarusian women than men are online.7 Some 87.1 percent of Belarusian women aged 16–72 use the internet, and 86.5 percent use it every day.8

A3 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does the government exercise technical or legal control over internet infrastructure for the purposes of restricting connectivity? 4.004 6.006

Score Change: The score improved from 2 to 4 because the government did not shut down internet service nationwide as it did during the previous coverage period.

The government owns and oversees the backbone connection to the international internet and controls much of the ICT sector.1 There are 18 internet service providers (ISPs) in Belarus,2 but only two state-run entities, the National Center for Traffic Exchange (NTEC) and Beltelecom, are permitted to handle connections with ISPs outside the country.3 The NTEC provides peering services through the BY-IX internet exchange point (IXP). Beltelecom, the country’s largest telecommunications company, owns and operates Belarus’s backbone network, upon which all other ISPs depend. Through these entities, the government can throttle or cut connections at will.

Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in late February 2022, during which the Russian military launched attacks from the territory of Belarus, Ukraine’s military intelligence services claimed that the Belarusian authorities had restricted access to the internet in the southern parts of Belarus in April to conceal information regarding Russian troop movements.4 This claim has not been confirmed by Belarusian or other international sources.

During the previous coverage period, the authorities initiated a nationwide internet shutdown on August 9, 2020, the day of the presidential election, and the outage ended 61 hours later on August 12.5 More localized and intermittent internet outages took place over the subsequent months, particularly during frequent Sunday protests. The media outlet calculated that from August 9 to November 29, 2020, Belarusians spent more than 102 hours without mobile internet service.6

In March 2022, the Open Society Justice Initiative filed a complaint with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) against A1, an Austrian telecommunications firm that has a subsidiary in Belarus, for its role in facilitating the Belarusian government’s internet shutdowns in 2020.7 Other international organizations focused on digital rights and freedom of expression had also denounced A1 Belarus’s decisions to restrict access to mobile internet service on numerous occasions during the 2020 protests.8

Internet connections were reportedly jammed at protests and rallies that took place in June 2020, ahead of the presidential election. While mobile service providers and ISPs initially blamed technical issues for the slow speeds, experts claimed that the blockages were the product of government interference.9 The internet had previously been jammed in May and November 2019.

In May 2021, the government amended the Telecommunications Law to allow it to shut down or limit the operation of telecommunications networks and facilities in response to alleged threats to national security involving the internet.10 The revised legislation provides the authorities with official grounds to implement internet shutdowns.

Article 13 of the Media Law permits the government to block websites “in the event of a threat to national security.”11 Websites are considered mass media, according to 2018 amendments to law (see B3).

By law, all entities operating with .by and .бел domain names must use Belarusian hosting services (see C6).

A4 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Are there legal, regulatory, or economic obstacles that restrict the diversity of service providers? 1.001 6.006

The government has followed an authoritarian model in which it strives to connect citizens for the purpose of economic growth while strictly limiting the diversity and autonomy of service providers.1

As of January 2022, 191 companies were providing telecommunications services in Belarus.2 However, the state-owned Beltelecom commanded 81 percent of the broadband market in 2020.3 In comparison, A1, the largest private telecom firm in Belarus, had a 10 percent share of that market.4

As of mid-2022, Belarus had three mobile service providers. The largest was MTS Belarus, a joint venture of Beltelecom and Russia’s Mobile TeleSystems. As of April 2022, MTS had 5.7 million subscribers.5 A1, which is part of the Telekom Austria Group, had around 4.9 million mobile subscribers as of June 2022.6 BeST/Life, with 1.5 million subscribers, is co-owned by Turkcell, which has an 80 percent stake, and the State Property Committee of Belarus.7 In January 2022, the government provided a license allowing Beltelecom to provide mobile services, which threatens to further increase government control over mobile communications.8

During the reporting period, A1, one of the country’s largest foreign companies, was targeted by the Belarusian government for its alleged role in the 2020–21 protests. In December 2021, the authorities imprisoned the company’s spokesperson for allegedly leaking personal subscriber data to Telegram channels that were designated as “extremist” in Belarus.9 At the same time, another A1 employee was arrested and charged under Article 342 of the criminal code, which prohibits organization or active participation in group actions that grossly violate public order.10 In January 2022, security forces searched the company’s Minsk headquarters, but neither the government nor the company itself released an official statement on the incident.11 State media labeled A1 a “terrorist company” and called for its nationalization.12 Opposition and independent figures speculated that the government might be planning a takeover of the firm.13 Despite an exodus of foreign companies from the country and an internal debate at A1 about selling its Belarus operation,14 the firm was not planning to withdraw as of April 2022.15

The government’s post-2020 crackdown and its facilitation of Moscow’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine have led to a significant outflow of technology companies and specialists from Belarus. The departures are driven by government repression targeting the sector, international sanctions against Belarus and its leadership, and the fear that technology workers will be drafted into the military. These developments not only have an adverse impact on ISPs, but also harm the country’s ICT sector and broader economy.16

A5 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do national regulatory bodies that oversee service providers and digital technology fail to operate in a free, fair, and independent manner? 0.000 4.004

There is no independent regulator for ICTs in Belarus. The government founded Beltelecom in 1995 and continues to oversee the company. In addition, the presidential administration’s Operations and Analysis Center (OAC),1 which initially was a subdivision of the State Security Committee (KGB), has the authority to oversee ISPs, set standards for information security, conduct online surveillance, and manage Belarus’s top-level domains. A 2019 presidential decree provided the OAC with additional powers related to international cooperation on matters of information security and called for it to serve as a national center for responding to computer-related incidents.2 Other governmental bodies with authority over ICTs include the State Telecommunications Inspectorate, the State Control Committee, the KGB, and the Prosecutor General’s Office.

While Belarus is home to a few nongovernmental ICT-related business groups, such as the “Infopark” Association and the Confederation of Digital Business, they are supported by and cooperate closely with the government. The Belinfocom Association, an NGO, has the mission of representing and protecting the interests of the privately owned ICT companies it counts as members. In the past, it lobbied against Beltelecom’s monopolistic position, but it appears to have been less active in recent years.

In May 2021, the government shut down the independent company TUT BY Media—which produced, the country’s most popular news and information portal—and arrested key employees. The authorities also arrested the director of, a subsidiary of TUT BY media and the largest registrar of domains on the Belarusian internet. The nongovernmental continues to operate as the country’s only domain registrar with accreditation from the US-based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). However, the government declared that the state-run beCloud would replace it as the “technical administrator” of Belarus’s national domains beginning in January 2022.3 International sanctions imposed on Belarus following the regime’s role in facilitating Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine may limit international domain trading and parking in the country.4

B Limits on Content

B1 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does the state block or filter, or compel service providers to block or filter, internet content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards? 1.001 6.006

Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 due to a sharp increase in blocked websites, including civil society websites, Ukrainian and other foreign news sites, and virtually all independent Belarusian media outlets.

The government began restricting access to news websites in 2014,1 but it has dramatically expanded its efforts to block critical news, human rights, civil society, and political opposition sites since the August 2020 presidential election and ensuing protests.2 Immediately after the election, more than 70 websites were blocked, including at least 25 media sites and 25 political sites.3 The Belarusian Association of Journalists reported that the government restricted access to more than 100 online news resources in 2020 and 2021.4 In May 2021, the Ministry of Information indicated that it had blocked more than 480 websites.5 In November 2021, the government said it had “terminated” about 100 chats on the messaging application Telegram.6 The Belarusian Internet Observatory, established to monitor the blocking of websites in the Belarusian segment of the internet, found that more than 14,500 sites were being blocked as of the end of the coverage period.7

The crackdown that began in 2020 has led to an exodus of independent media from Belarus (see B7). As they departed, these outlets have also left the national .by domain and reregistered their websites abroad, prompting Belarusian authorities to block the new international sites. For example, the government blocked the Belarusian website ( of Nasha Niva, one of the country’s oldest and most popular Belarusian-language newspapers and online sources of information, in July 2021. After part of the editorial team working outside of Belarus resumed publishing on, the government swiftly blocked it.8

In July 2021, Lukashenka launched a “cleanup” of “bandit” and “foreign agent” NGOs in Belarus, including media and human rights organizations. The government shut down more than 150 NGOs, which often led to their websites being blocked. Officials claimed that the sites spread “untrue information aimed at spreading destructive sentiments in society.”9 For example, Human Constanta, a prominent human rights organization working on digital rights issues, and its .by website were shut down in July 2021; in January 2022, its international website was blocked.10 From the 2020 protests to the end of May 2022, the Belarusian government forced the closure of 448 NGOs.11

As of May 2022, all major independent media and NGO websites remained blocked, with the exception of

Prior to a February 2022 referendum on a variety of constitutional amendments, the government blocked access to web pages that discussed independent monitoring of the vote and the opposition’s campaign to intentionally spoil ballots as a form of protest.12

In May 2021, the government blocked the domain portal of, one of the country’s most popular and influential online news sources (see A5, B2 and C3). The Ministry of Information cited alleged violations of the Media Law, including the site’s publication of materials from the unregistered Belarus Solidarity Foundation (BYSOL), which provides financial support to those who suffered repression at the hands of the Belarusian government.13 At the time of its blocking, had 3.3 million daily users.14 In July, part of the team launched a successor to the site,, that is based outside of Belarus. The government immediately blocked and declared it and to be “extremist” outlets.15 On February 24, 2022, the first day of its invasion of Ukraine, the Russian government also blocked, making it the first major Belarusian media site to be blocked in both countries.16

The government has also blocked the websites of some foreign news organizations covering Belarus. In 2020 and 2021, the authorities blocked the Belarusian service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Deutsche Welle, and the RFE/RL and Voice of America network Current Time.17

Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Belarusian government began restricting access to Ukrainian websites that reported on the war. In March 2022, it blocked and, two Ukrainian news sites that were popular in Belarus, for allegedly publishing “extremist materials.” Later that week, the Ministry of Information blocked the news sites and,18 as well as and The authorities have similarly blocked Russian websites whose coverage of the invasion does not follow the Kremlin line.20

In response to economic damage precipitated by the war, the government began blocking websites such as and, which offer information on financial issues and currency exchanges.21

Under changes to the country’s media legislation in March 2021 (see B3 and B6), the government was authorized to block “mirror” websites. This led to the blocking of a number of different sites linked to independent online media that publish from outside Belarus.22

Whether by the government or other forces, access to some state websites—including, the only official source that publishes legislation—has been restricted for certain users outside of Belarus.23

In Belarus, social media and messaging platforms remain available, though Lukashenka has discussed following the Kremlin’s lead in blocking them.24 Individual groups and accounts have been blocked due to alleged “extremist” content (see B2). The Viasna Human Rights Center reported that more than 450 social media accounts and Telegram channels were banned by the government in 2021.25

Research indicates that both government bodies and state-owned and private ISPs carry out internet blocking in Belarus.26 The NTEC has the capacity to block 40 percent of all incoming and outgoing internet traffic and to restrict access to up to 150 million URLs.27 In addition, A1, the largest private telecommunications firm in Belarus, has actively participated in blocking certain opposition and critical media websites.28 State offices, organizations, and companies—which employ more than half of the country’s workforce—reportedly use internet filters.29

In addition to its use of deep packet inspection (DPI) technology, the government employs basic techniques such as IP (internet protocol) filtering and disabling domain name system (DNS) records to block websites. It also uses other commercial filtering technologies, including some produced in the United States, for this purpose.30 The authorities do not appear to perform regular or automated monitoring of the accessibility of banned websites, and it generally takes several hours for a new IP address to be blocked.

Since the 2020 political crisis, the government has sought to upgrade its blocking capabilities. In March 2022, Beltelecom announced a $4.25 million tender to modernize existing hardware and software “that collects and stores information about the user's visit to Internet resources and blocks Internet resources."31 The government is looking to Moscow for the technology to block social media platforms.32

B2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do state or nonstate actors employ legal, administrative, or other means to force publishers, content hosts, or digital platforms to delete content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards? 1.001 4.004

During the coverage period, the government passed antiextremism legislation and employed it frequently to censor online content and limit freedom of expression (see C2). When the authorities label organizations and individuals, as well as their reporting and other content, as “extremist,” the decision bars all online media and ordinary users from referring to them. Media outlets are required to exclude such materials—and even remove them retroactively—from their publications (see B3).1 Users of websites, social media platforms, and messaging applications who share these materials can be and have been prosecuted.

Prior to the 2020 political crisis, a majority of the materials declared “extremist” advocated racism or religious extremism. Since then, more than 90 percent have been related to opposition politics, independent media, and other critical voices.2 As one Belarusian human rights group noted, “official state media and law enforcement agencies describe almost any activity related to the expression of alternative opinions as ‘extremism.’”3 In June and July 2021, 71 court decisions recognized 115 materials as “extremist”—four times more than in April and May 2021.4 In total, during the second half of 2021, 320 court decisions recognized 471 materials as “extremist.” In comparison, the total during the previous coverage period was 63 decisions.5

In November 2021, the authorities began classifying entire media outlets as “extremist organizations.”6 The United Nations reported that the government had declared 13 independent media groups to be “extremist” by the end of 2021.7 By the end of May 2022, the number of “extremist” domestic and foreign media outlets had grown to 27.8

As of June 2022, the government’s official list included approximately 1,800 “extremist materials.”9 More than 60 organizations, including their websites and social media pages, were on the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ list of “extremist groups” at the end of the coverage period.10 At the end of March 2022, the official list of individuals considered to be “extremist” numbered 140, including media workers serving prison sentences under different “extremism” articles (see C2 and C3).11

In February 2022, the government declared the social media pages and 21 different internet resources of Viasna, the country’s oldest and most prominent human rights group, to be “extremist.”12

Most of the materials banned in 2021–22 were related to Telegram. The government reported that 201 Telegram channels and 196 chats had been declared “extremist” as of December 25, 2021.13 By mid-May 2022, 633 channels were recognized as “extremist.”14 For the first time, the government banned the communication bots linked to some banned chats. Other barred materials included pages on Facebook, VK, Odnoklassniki, Instagram, and TikTok,15 as well as a music video, a community on the communications app Viber, and an entire sports app.16

The Belarusian government also asked Yandex.News, a Russian-owned news aggregator popular in Belarus, to stop reprinting materials from Belarusian media that were officially deemed to be “extremist,” and the Russian company complied. Following its invasion of Ukraine, the Russian government forced Yandex.Zen, an automated personal-recommendation service that drove traffic to Belarusian independent media sites, to drop all foreign postings, including from Belarusian media. The service has been shut down in Belarus.17 In March 2022, the Belarusian government signed a decree that prohibits news aggregators from cooperating with sites blocked in Belarus. Because of that order, several independent media sites in Belarus were excluded from the list of partners of Yandex.News.18

At the same time, Telegram restricted progovernment and government-affiliated channels, including the channel of the government’s Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption (GUBOPik), for posting videos of interrogations of political prisoners that “were degrading to a person based on their sexual orientation.”19 GUBOPik has recreated the channel 11 times, but Telegram has blocked each one.20 Telegram also blocked Zheltye Slivy (Yellow Plums), a popular channel linked to the state, for publishing “repentant” confession videos that appeared to violate children’s rights (see C7).21

In 2021, Facebook did not remove any content at the behest of the Belarusian government, according to its transparency reports.22 During the second half of 2021, Twitter received no content-removal requests from Belarus.23 Google received one such request during the same period, but it did not comply.24 The Russian social media platforms VK and Odnoklassniki are also popular in Belarus, but their parent companies do not release transparency reports.

Following Belarus’s involvement in the Russian invasion of in Ukraine, some social media platforms acted to limit content from the Belarusian government that they deemed to be disinformation. In March 2022, Twitter began labeling and limiting the spread of posts from Belarusian state media, including the BelTA news agency and the broadcaster Belteleradio, and their senior staff.25 Instagram regularly blocks and deletes “collective” and “personal” accounts that promote the Belarusian government, largely because they have violated the platform’s terms of service.26

B3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do restrictions on the internet and digital content lack transparency, proportionality to the stated aims, or an independent appeals process? 0.000 4.004

The government’s internet restrictions, which continued to expand during the coverage period, are opaque, disproportionate to the stated aims, often invoked arbitrarily, and devoid of an independent appeals process. For example, Article 38 of the Media Law is broadly interpreted, does not require a judicial process to institute blocking, and offers no avenue for appeals.

The 2008 Media Law secures the state’s control over the country’s information space. In June 2021, new amendments to the law entered into force,1 making it more difficult for individuals to register outlets and enabling the government to suspend media outlets (see B6). The amendments also allow the government to restrict online media for publishing materials that are considered propaganda, harmful to national security, or extremist, and they ban the publication of and links to public opinion polls on sociopolitical issues without official accreditation.2 The leader of the Belarusian Association of Journalists declared that the new amendments made the updated statute “the most repressive media law in Europe.”3

Previous amendments to the Media Law that came into effect in 2018 expanded the Ministry of Information’s ability to block and filter content, empowering it to warn, suspend, block, and close registered and unregistered online outlets without warning or judicial oversight.4 The amendments also let the ministry block social media platforms and hold website owners liable for hosting content that is deemed false, defamatory, or harmful to the national interest.5 Under 2015 amendments, the Ministry of Information was able to warn, suspend, and file closure suits against online outlets.6

In June 2021, Lukashenka issued a decree expanding the authority of the Commission on Information Security. The commission can now make decisions to restrict access to domestic and foreign websites and to close media outlets if it finds that their content is harmful to national interests. The list of the potential threats to national security is extensive, including but not limited to manifestations of sociopolitical, religious, or ethnic extremism; the promotion of politics contrary to national interests; calls for riots; the destructive impact of information on an individual, society, or state institution; attempts to destroy national spiritual and moral traditions; the biased revision of history; and attempts to undermine public confidence in state institutions.7

In March 2022, Lukashenka signed a decree that allowed the government to block news aggregators that have disseminated materials from sites restricted by the Ministry of Information.8 In June 2021, the government adopted a new resolution designed to improve the speed and efficiency of its blocking.9

A list of banned websites, to which any government body may contribute, is compiled by the Ministry of Information and maintained by the Ministry of Communications.10 Only government agencies and ISPs have access to the list, which must be reviewed daily.11 A website can be blocked by a provider within 24 hours, while it may take the Ministry of Information up to a month to restore access to it once all violations are corrected. The government prevents online media from referencing materials deemed “extremist,” which include news and prodemocracy content, and requires the retroactive removal of links to them (see B2).12

According to Ruling No. 6/8, circa 2015, which laid out the mechanisms and procedures for legally restricting access, sites can be blocked if they contain information the government deems illegal.13 Websites may be blocked if their owners fail to correct violations of the Media Law as required by the authorities. The directive allows not only state agencies but also any individual to propose the blocking of specific websites.

B4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do online journalists, commentators, and ordinary users practice self-censorship? 1.001 4.004

Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 because the increased blocking of websites, expanding arrests and prosecutions of online journalists and ordinary users, and more repressive laws have spurred greater self-censorship.

Since the 2020 protests, the escalation in government repression, including unprecedented physical violence and criminal prosecutions (see C3 and C7), has heightened self-censorship among editors, reporters, and website owners. Any media organization operating in Belarus must either practice self-censorship or expect to be shuttered.1 The last major independent outlet still functioning inside the country,, has adopted a “common sense” approach and reduced its news and political coverage.2 In May 2022, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus described “an atmosphere of fear that penetrates the entire Belarusian society.” She concluded that government repression has led to “the virtual eradication of civic space” and “the absence of non-government-controlled media” in Belarus.3

The Belarusian Association of Journalists and Article 19 found that the post-2020 “assault on media freedom is now so critical that many journalists are forced into self-censorship or to even flee the country.”4 Impunity for violence against media workers—the government has not taken up a single case—also begets greater self-censorship.5 Some journalists who remain in Belarus have opted to stop reporting due to the dangerous environment. For example, freelancer Larisa Shchyrakova, who had been fined more than 40 times for working without accreditation, ceased practicing journalism in 2022 because of the increased risks.6 Journalists who have fled abroad may also engage in self-censorship to protect their colleagues or family members in Belarus.7

While Belarusians continue to consume independent news and information, the government’s increased surveillance and its employment of antiextremism legislation to intimidate both prominent critics and ordinary users has resulted in fewer comments on and less sharing of materials produced by allegedly “extremist” outlets. Journalists and editors cannot even refer to or repost materials from these outlets (see B2).

From August 2020 to the end of May 2022, 317 NGOs made the decision to close their organizations and remove their online presence, mainly due to pressure from the authorities and the country’s adverse legal and political environment.8

B5 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are online sources of information controlled or manipulated by the government or other powerful actors to advance a particular political interest? 2.002 4.004

Beset by a pandemic, mass protests, international sanctions, and the effects of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Lukashenka regime tightened its control over and increased its manipulation of the country’s information landscape during the coverage period. The government and state media stepped up their use of propaganda, which did not always prove effective, in an attempt to counter and discredit their domestic and foreign critics.1

The state media’s propaganda campaigns included claims that Belarusian civil society and Western forces had attempted to carry out a “color revolution” in Belarus, assertions that independent media were waging an “information war” against the state,2 efforts to increase support for a February 2022 constitutional referendum designed to consolidate and extend Lukashenka’s rule (see C1), and amplification of Moscow’s justifications for its invasion of Ukraine.

The authorities developed and employed novel forms of propaganda against critical voices that were more aggressive, emotional, and demeaning. The new approach, exemplified by the state-linked Zheltye Slivy (Yellow Plums) Telegram channel (see B2), essentially used hate speech to humiliate and marginalize any perceived opposition.3

The government and its supporters intensified their efforts to compete with independent media and opposition figures on social media and messaging platforms more broadly. In July 2021, “patriotic” commentators created a Belarusian Union of Bloggers to support the state on YouTube and Instagram and provide a “diversity of opinion” online.4 In 2021, the progovernment Center for New Media began operating as an online “cheerleading group” for state media via Telegram.5 Progovernment Telegram channels regularly smear opposition politicians, independent journalists, and bloggers as “extremists” and “terrorists.” RFE/RL spotlighted a group of about a dozen suspicious Telegram channels that were likely created by or at the behest of the state in early February 2022 and all followed a similar pattern in their posts; the channels stopped updating after the exposé.6

Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Twitter began adding labels to Belarusian state-affiliated accounts that disseminated information about the war.7

In September 2021, Meta said it had evidence that the Belarusian KGB used fake Facebook accounts to impersonate journalists and activists in an effort to raise panic over a border crisis in which Belarusian authorities encouraged foreign migrants and asylum seekers to enter Poland through Belarus.8 In April 2022, Meta reported that the same network had posted about Ukrainian soldiers surrendering the day before Russian forces invaded. The network then shifted direction, agitating for a protest against the Polish government.9

The Belarusian government is using additional manipulation tactics to support the Russian leadership in its war against Ukraine. In contrast to the 2014–20 period, when Minsk sought to maintain some independence from Moscow with regard to Ukraine, Belarusian state media are now toeing the Kremlin’s line on the conflict.10 A “special troll factory” overseen by the Belarusian military is reportedly working to reinforce the official Russian narrative.11 One overriding message has been that the war is a result of interference by the United States.

An important goal of these efforts by state media is to shape public opinion on the war within Belarus,12 and the Russian invasion has led more Belarusians to consume state media online. However, the propaganda appears to have had little effect on citizens’ views.13

Meanwhile, actors based in or affiliated with Russia have increased their own dissemination of Kremlin-sponsored disinformation and propaganda in Belarus. Many Russian media outlets, websites, and social media groups promote the ideology of the “Russian World,” which denies the existence of a separate Belarusian history and culture. They also promote other vitriolic campaigns in the country. One seeks to discredit the Belarusian opposition, especially leaders who came to the fore around the August 2020 election, for example by portraying Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and her allies as puppets controlled by the West.14

While Belarusians’ use of Telegram allows them to consume independent news and information, it also further exposes them to disinformation and propaganda. Telegram channels that are likely linked to the Kremlin have become one of the primary online vectors for Russian disinformation on the war against Ukraine. From Telegram, the Kremlin narratives quickly proliferate across other social media platforms.15

Kremlin-supported media outlets, social networks, and government-organized nongovernmental organizations (GONGOs) are thriving inside Belarus.16 The number and activities of Russian-backed news websites in the country have increased significantly in recent years, including at the regional level.17 Some of these sites attract audiences comparable to those of regional state-owned online media.18 While the sites’ own audiences are not always large, their divisive content is amplified via social networks and messaging applications.19

Russian state-affiliated media targeting Belarusian audiences regularly demonized Ukraine and dehumanized Ukrainian officials, alleging that they were “fascists,” “Nazis,” “criminals,” and “militants.” The Belarusian government echoed these characterizations: state media were dominated by allegations that Ukrainians are “nationalists,” “fascists,” “Nazis,” and “neo-Nazis.” They also claimed that “Nazi battalions … do terrible things: murders, rapes, torture and other abuses” and that “nationalist groups” carry out “robberies, abductions, rapes, including children.”20

B6 1.00-3.00 pts0-3 pts
Are there economic or regulatory constraints that negatively affect users’ ability to publish content online? 0.000 3.003

Score Change: The score declined from 1 to 0 because restrictive amendments to the media law, a discriminatory tax on advertising, and the deteriorating economic environment have negatively affected the viability of independent media outlets.

Recent internal and external developments have led to the collapse of the business models that sustained independent media in Belarus prior to 2020.

The pandemic, the postelection political crisis, and international sanctions have all harmed Belarus’s already-struggling economy, which has not grown since 2012.1 The Russian war against Ukraine and further sanctions in response to Belarus’s facilitation of the invasion caused the economy—and media advertising—to decline sharply in 2022,2 limiting the economic viability of the few remaining online media outlets.3

June 2021 amendments to the Media Law placed further limits on the ability of individuals or legal entities to start and operate media outlets; expanded the grounds on which the state can refuse to register media outlets; allowed the suspension of a given media outlet following two written warnings in 12 months; permitted the government to suspend a media outlet without warning if it is deemed to be a national security threat; and curbed the rights of journalists by expanding how and when official accreditation can be revoked (see B3).4 The government has a long record of using arbitrary laws and regulations regarding the accreditation of journalists to stifle media freedom, which it continued to do during the coverage period.5

In October 2020, the government canceled the accreditations of all foreign journalists working in Belarus. It adopted rules that made the accreditation process more complicated and forced foreign journalists to reapply.6 Those who have since been accredited are likely to follow the government’s line. Of the 150 or so accredited by July 2021, the overwhelming majority were Russian journalists, many of whom were working for state outlets.7 Unaccredited journalists, including freelancers and those working for foreign media outlets, are not accorded journalists’ rights and status as a matter of course.8

Prior to 2020, state outlets controlled the broadcast and print segments of the media market, but state online sources of information trailed independent online outlets in terms of popularity and trust. A broad range of national and regional independent outlets dominated the country’s online information space. State media were often on the defensive in responding to more dynamic and sophisticated independent online media.9

Beginning in mid-2021, however, state-run online resources faced less competition inside the country due to restrictive new legislation and harsh persecutions of journalists (see B3 and C3). While independent online outlets and other groups based abroad are still successfully competing with state media among Belarusian audiences, the government has increased its control over the domestic information space. Experts believe that the reach of independent media, think tanks, and NGOs, while still significant, has declined since the government tightened its grip in mid-2021, though such data are difficult to obtain.10

A new government decree that entered into force in May 2022 introduced a 20 percent tax on advertising with the goal of helping state and other “patriotic” media to survive the current economic conditions.11 Advertisers on government websites and state media are not required to pay the tax. The authorities will use the proceeds to support the editorial offices and content creation of state media.12 The new tax undermines independent online media in Belarus by reducing their primary source of revenue. Experts suggested that the levy, as well as international sanctions, could reduce the 2022 advertising market significantly.13

Favorable connections to the government are necessary for nonstate online media outlets to succeed financially. Since the crackdown on dissent that began in 2020, the few remaining independent outlets have grown more dependent on external funding, and government persecution has included attempts to cut them off from such outside funding sources. Restrictive amendments to the Law on Public Associations and the criminal code that were passed secretly in 2011 bar organizations—including online media outlets—from receiving foreign funding without state approval. Forced to operate in semi-underground conditions and facing constant state pressure, the independent outlets still based inside Belarus were unable monetize their popularity during this report’s coverage period.

The media market remains distorted by government subsidies for state-owned media. Most state outlets would not survive without this assistance.14 For the second straight year, the government allocated less support for state media: the state planned to spend 151 million Belarusian rubles ($59 million) in 2022, compared with 156 million rubles ($61 million) in 2021.15 The figure for 2020, an election year, was 164 million rubles ($64 million).16 The reductions are due not only to the economic crisis but also to Lukashenka’s view that state media are underperforming.17

B7 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the online information landscape lack diversity and reliability? 2.002 4.004

The government crackdown that started in 2020 has radically reshaped Belarus’s information landscape, making it less diverse and nuanced, and more restricted and polarized. Fewer independent journalists reported from within the country during the coverage period. Disinformation from Belarusian and Russian state media increased, especially following the Kremlin’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine. Nevertheless, independent media and citizen journalists continued to work in exile and in the country through social media and messaging platforms.

The crackdown has forced almost all independent news and analytic websites to leave the BYnet and publish from neighboring countries. The authorities have blocked virtually all of these foreign-based Belarusian websites. The last large independent media outlet in the country,, has reduced its focus on news in general and on politics in particular in order to survive (see B4). The government’s blocking of news sites from Central and Western Europe, Ukraine, and Russia has also negatively impacted online diversity (see B1).

The number of independent journalists working in the country has dropped sharply. Only about half of the 1,300 members of the Belarusian Association of Journalists remained in Belarus by early June 2022, and many of those have ceased practicing their profession. Those still operating in the country are forced to work in a constrained environment.1

Prior to 2021, the rankings of popular media and news websites in Belarus were dominated by independent outlets; however, the situation has since changed. For example, as late as September 2021, eight of the top 20 websites read by Belarusians were independent Belarusian publications, and two were independent Ukrainian publications.2 However, a similar ranking of the country’s top 40 websites between December 2021 and February 2022 included just four independent Belarusian news and media sites; only one was in the top 10.3

Following the blocking and forced closure of almost all independent news and politics sites in the country, the surviving outlets—including state-run media—did not inherent their audiences. Instead, users migrated to the social media and messaging app channels of the blocked outlets.4 The number of Belarusians utilizing social media platforms increased sharply during the coverage period. According to We Are Social and Hootsuite, Belarus had 3.9 million active social media users, a penetration rate of 41 percent, in early 2021.5 By January 2022 these numbers had jumped to 4.35 million and 46 percent.6 The Russian invasion of Ukraine also boosted usage. The most popular social networks in Belarus are Twitter, VK, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram.7 YouTube became the leading platform in 2022.8 The most popular messaging apps are Viber, Telegram, WhatsApp, Skype, and Facebook Messenger.

A 2021 poll found that more than 70 percent of Belarusians use social media platforms and messaging apps as their primary source of information.9 The government is not able to classify entire social media platforms as “extremist” because they are not owned by Belarusians, but authorities do label specific channels and pages as “extremist” (see B2). Independent news outlets and critical bloggers dominate the rankings of the top Telegram,10 YouTube,11 Instagram,12 and other social media and messaging app accounts. One exception is TikTok, where the difference in the number of users from the prodemocracy and progovernment camps is noticeably smaller.13

The fact that it is illegal to comment on and share content from allegedly “extremist” outlets contributes to the lack of diversity in the information landscape (see B2). The authorities have threatened to make subscribing to “extremist” outlets illegal as well, and even claimed that it is already so, though there is no legislation to support this assertion.14

The 30 most popular YouTube channels in Belarus are dominated by independent news outlets and opposition political sites; only two were state entities prior to March 2022.15 The number of views on nonstate YouTube channels rivals the number of viewers of Belarus’s state television stations. The invasion of Ukraine boosted the popularity of some government YouTube channels, as the information they provided was somewhat different from that supplied by Russian state media.16 Nevertheless, long-term research has found that the audience share of independent media is two to three times larger than that of state media in the Belarusian YouTube sphere.17

Telegram is the most popular messaging app when it comes to news on political topics. During the 2020 election and ensuing protests, the platform remained partially accessible even during an internet shutdown and subsequent outages—working more effectively via proxy servers, virtual private networks (VPNs), and file-sharing services than ordinary websites and social media platforms.18 By late 2020, there were at least 1,800 regularly updated Belarusian Telegram channels.19 As of late March 2022, most of the top 15 Telegram channels in Belarus were run by the political opposition, critical bloggers, and independent news and information outlets.20

The shift to social media and messaging apps has impacted the quality of reporting. Not only is it harder for exiled outlets to cover developments in Belarus, but their content on the platforms tends to shorter, less detailed, and more repetitive due to the reporting formats available and the country’s repressive post-2020 environment.

Events since 2020 have polarized the Belarusian user base. The prodemocracy or “protest” audience and the “neutrals” consume mostly content produced by independent outlets, while the progovernment audience, which now has no easy access to dissenting voices, is content to consume information from Belarusian and Russian state sources. The 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine has reinforced this trend, as Belarusian independent media and civil society adopted an antiwar stance in opposition to the government’s pro-Kremlin position.21

Most Belarusians consider the news and information from independent media and critical bloggers to be reliable. Four Chatham House surveys in 2021 found that almost two-thirds of urban Belarusians distrusted state media and that state media were the least trusted of any official institution. Conversely, respondents trusted independent media more than any other independent or prodemocracy institution.22

Domestic and foreign news and information outlets in Russian, one of Belarus’s official languages, have become more influential. Four of the most popular websites in Belarus—Yandex,, VK, and Odnoklassniki—are Russian owned.23 The online broadcasts of Russian television channels are popular among Belarusian users.24 One expert estimated that 30 percent of Belarusians only get their news from Russian sources.25

Prior to 2022, some Belarusian readers and independent outlets relied on Russian independent media as a source of more objective news or a means to corroborate information gleaned from Belarusian state media. However, the Kremlin’s push for a single narrative regarding the war and its other recent moves to close down critical Russian outlets have limited access to such sources.

Belarusians often utilize proxy servers and other methods to circumvent state censorship and surveillance.26 With the onset of the 2020 political crisis, the use of Tor and Psiphon surged. As of August 2021, Tor, Psiphon, and VPN services were still among the most popular apps sought out on Belarusian Google.27 The outbreak of war in Ukraine in 2022 has also likely led to a spike in VPN usage in Belarus, as was the case in Russia.28

After the 2020 political crisis, the Belarusian national domain zone stopped growing for the first time. The number of active sites has fallen, and in 2021 the number of new registrations dropped by 20 percent. Meanwhile, Belarusians registered 13 percent more names in international domain zones.29 This trend continued in the first quarter of 2022, as registrations decreased by 18 percent compared with the same period a year earlier.30

B8 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Do conditions impede users’ ability to mobilize, form communities, and campaign, particularly on political and social issues? 3.003 6.006

Score Change: The score declined from 4 to 3 because the government’s repressive campaign has significantly limited Belarusians’ ability to organize civic and political campaigns online.

In recent years, internet-based platforms—especially social networks, messaging apps, crowdfunding services, and online petitions—have been the main tools for advancing civic and political activism in Belarus. Citizens had access to and actively used a wide range of digital resources to disseminate information, create communities, and organize campaigns around issues related to the pandemic, the 2020 election, and the subsequent political crisis. However, government surveillance, blocking, new legal restrictions, and repression forced most independent online activism on political, social, and cultural topics outside of Belarus during the coverage period.

Belarusian activists and civil society groups have continued to use the internet from abroad to self-organize, carry out solidarity campaigns, monitor and report on human rights violations, fundraise for and provide support to political refugees and prisoners, and mobilize communities for political change. Although they operated on a smaller scale than in the previous coverage period, these activists and activities were still more numerous than prior to the 2020 election.

A group of ICT professionals who previously developed the crowdsourced election-monitoring platform Golos (Voice), which helped expose large-scale fraud during the 2020 election, have launched several new online products for democratic activists. These include the Digital Solidarity app, which identifies people in need of help; the eHealth platform, through which more than 100 Belarusian doctors who were fired and repressed for their civic activism and political views are providing online consultations to more than 10,000 patients; the Legal Hub, which offers free online legal consultations; and BY_MAPKA, an interactive map that helps people to locate and promote businesses run by Belarusians abroad.1

The Voice platform played a leading role in a campaign by democratic forces against the February 2022 referendum to amend the constitution, which consolidated and extended Lukashenka’s powers (see C1). Voters were encouraged to arrive at polling stations at a certain hour, speak Belarusian, check both the “yes” and “no” boxes for the referendum’s single question, take a photo of the spoiled ballot if possible, and securely share the voting results through Voice via Viber or Telegram, thus expressing their dissent and exposing any fraud in the official outcome.2 The campaign attracted over 210,000 views and 500 comments between November 2021 and February 2022.3 As the referendum took place three days after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, many voters also wrote antiwar slogans on their ballots. Thousands of Belarusians signed antiwar petitions on and

The Russian invasion stimulated a number of online civic initiatives to support Ukraine. The Belarusian Hajun (Spirit) project uses open-source materials to monitor and report on Russian and Belarusian military movements in Belarus. With more than 390,000 subscribers, the project had already published over 2,000 pictures and 700 videos related to the war by May 2022, including items on Russian missile launches from Belarus that targeted Ukraine. In April 2022, the project made international headlines by releasing video footage and personal information on Russian soldiers in a Belarusian city who mailed tons of goods that were apparently looted from Ukraine to their homes in Russia.5 Another online initiative launched during the same period is #BelarusWithUkraine, which was created by Belarusian ICT specialists to assist Ukrainians through fundraising, volunteering, cultural initiatives, and news.6

Belarusian activists who organize online political and civic campaigns from abroad are still at risk. For example, the government launched criminal cases against the founders of two leading crowdfunding platforms intended to assist persecuted Belarusians, BY_HELP and BYSOL. These individuals, who are currently living outside the country, were charged with financing “extremist” groups and activities and were put on an international wanted list.7

C Violations of User Rights

C1 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Do the constitution or other laws fail to protect rights such as freedom of expression, access to information, and press freedom, including on the internet, and are they enforced by a judiciary that lacks independence? 1.001 6.006

While the rights to freedom of expression, access to information, and press freedom are guaranteed by the Belarusian constitution, the government does not respect them in practice. The country has no independent judiciary to defend these freedoms. To the contrary, the judicial branch plays a key role in the government’s strategy for restricting independent media in Belarus.1 In February 2022, under heavily repressive conditions, the government held a constitutional referendum that further consolidated Lukashenka’s power.2 When the Belarusian Association of Journalists was closed down by the Ministry of Justice and the Supreme Court in August 2021, the group’s leader observed: “Today, the law does not protect us. Today we protect the law.”3

Online journalists are not adequately protected by Belarusian law (see C2 and B6). Since the prodemocracy protests and government crackdown that began in August 2020, the authorities have made no attempt to investigate the arbitrary detention of reporters or initiate criminal cases in response to journalists’ complaints about police violence. Impunity for crimes against critical online voices has become the norm in post-2020 Belarus.4 The UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus found that systemic impunity and lack of accountability for torture and ill-treatment are part of a “deliberate government policy of deterring or silencing dissent.”5

C2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are there laws that assign criminal penalties or civil liability for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards? 1.001 4.004

At the beginning of 2021, Lukashenka declared that the authoritarian country’s laws were too “liberal” and that they had facilitated the 2020 protests.1 The government subsequently approved more than a dozen new laws, amendments, decrees, and resolutions through the end of the coverage period,2 further restricting critical online voices and criminalizing online expression. The authorities applied laws against terrorism, extremism, and treason, often retroactively, to the activities of online journalists and internet users.

In May 2022, the government amended the criminal code to include the death penalty among the punishments prescribed for attempts to carry out acts of terrorism.3 The authorities began bringing charges of terrorism against opposition figures following the 2020 election. As of May 25, 2022, the Belarusian KGB’s official list of charged and convicted “persons involved in terrorist activities” numbered more than 60 citizens, including media workers and activists who were jailed for alleged internet-related crimes.4 Possible “terrorist activity” was also used as a pretext to raid media outlets.5 The government labeled some Telegram channels as “terrorist organizations.”6

Starting in May 2021, the government applied Article 356 of the criminal code, which concerns treason, to journalists and internet-related activities. Three journalists currently stand accused of treason (see C3). The maximum sentence under this charge is 15 years in prison—or 20 years if the accused is a government or military official.7

An amendment to the criminal code that came into effect in January 2022 recriminalized individual activities in unregistered NGOs under Article 193-1. The amendment provides that participation in unregistered or liquidated NGOs—including those whose work relates to the media—can be punished with up to two years in prison.8

In July 2021, Lukashenka signed into law a package of “amendments to laws on the protection of sovereignty and the constitutional order,” which included revisions to the law on states of emergency. They added new restrictions on freedom of expression and information by allowing the suspension of publication and distribution of media products (including foreign media), establishing tougher procedures for accrediting journalists, and restricting access to internet resources and online publications.9 Experts noted that the amendments effectively legalized measures which the government had already been widely practicing since 2020, even without announcing a state of emergency.10

In June 2021, revisions to the 2007 Law on Countering Extremism came into force.11 They broadened the government’s authority to persecute those expressing dissenting views by expanding the list of “extremist activities and materials” and introducing individual criminal liability for related offenses. The updated legislation targets individuals, political parties, or domestic or international organizations, including media groups, that “plan, organize, prepare, and commit encroachments on the independence, territorial integrity, sovereignty, the foundations of constitutional order, and public security” of Belarus. 12 The amendments punish the dissemination “of knowingly false information about the political, economic, social, military, or international situation of the Republic of Belarus”; the insult of “a representative of the authorities in connection with the performance of official duties”; and the incitement of “various types of hatred” with up to six years in prison.13 Since the 2020 protests, the authorities have used antiextremist legislation to remove content, persecute journalists and bloggers, and close media outlets (see B2 and C3).

Criminal code amendments that came into force in June 2021 increased penalties for the "distribution of false information" which discredits the state on the internet and for participation in and collaboration with "extremist" groups.14 The amendments also increased punishments for libel and calls for actions deemed harmful to national interests, and they specifically criminalized the defamation of law enforcement and other officials.15 According to human rights activists, some of the most commonly used articles in the criminal code relate to defamation: those for insulting the president, government officials, and judges, as well as those for desecrating state symbols (Articles 368, 369, 370, and 391).16 A new article criminalizes the publication of the personal information of police and their family members. The revisions substantially increased criminal penalties for other existing crimes, which were already seen by Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) experts as disproportionately severe. Practically all of the amendments allow prison sentences for speech-related offenses.17

The 2008 Media Law was amended again in June 2021 to add repressive measures that further stifle expression online (see B3 and B6).18

Also that month, the government amended the Law on Mass Events to ban the live streaming or real-time coverage of unsanctioned protests, including by media outlets, so as not to popularize them or promote propaganda.19 Journalists were barred from acting as organizers or participants in mass events “while performing their duties,” and activists were prohibited from raising, receiving, or using funds to pay fines or other expenses incurred by reporters and others who are prosecuted for violating the law.20

In March 2021, the government enacted a revised administrative code.21 While it does not focus specifically on media, the new code eliminates warnings, institutes more stringent fines, and adds a new penalty of community service for “taking part in unauthorized mass events” (Article 24.23), an offense with which many online journalists have been charged.22 The code featured the new offense of “insult” against a representative of a state organization performing his or her official duty in the mass media or in information distributed online.23

C3 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Are individuals penalized for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards? 0.000 6.006

Score Change: The score declined from 1 to 0 because the authorities handed down a series of unusually heavy penalties for online activities during the coverage period, including prison sentences ranging from 13 to 18 years for six bloggers, journalists, and administrators of Telegram channels.

During the coverage period, the government continued to escalate its persecution of media workers, opposition figures, bloggers, social media and messaging channel administrators, and ordinary internet users for their online activities.1 The overall pace of arrests for internet-related offenses increased,2 and the crackdown against journalists in particular intensified following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.3 Hundreds of Belarus’s more than 1,200 political prisoners were detained in connection with their online speech. Moreover, the sentences for those convicted in 2021–22 were harsher than in previous years due to new legislation (see C2).

The flagrant repression of journalists that began with the 2020 presidential campaign and subsequent protests continued in 2021 and 2022. The Belarusian Association of Journalists reported 113 detentions of journalists and media workers in 2021—a decrease from the record of 480 in 2020, but still many more than the 21 recorded in the year prior to the election.4 Also during 2021, more than 60 media representatives were subjected to criminal prosecution, 29 were jailed for alleged administrative offenses, and four were convicted in criminal cases.5 Media workers spent a total of more than 8,700 days behind bars that year.6 From January through April 2022, 10 more journalists were arrested, and five were sentenced to time behind bars;7 some 27 journalists remained in jail as of July 2022.

The authorities arrested 315 citizens for distributing materials deemed to be “extremist” in 2021,8 compared with 237 between January and mid-May 2022, 9 and security forces conducted 146 raids targeting media outlets and the homes of media workers during 2021,10 compared with 13 between January and April 2022.11 PEN Belarus reported that 68 cultural workers, including journalists, bloggers, and others active online, were among the country’s political prisoners at the end of 2021,12 and 98 cultural workers were behind bars as of March 2022.13 The Supreme Court announced that, from August 2020 through January 2022, 468 Belarusians were convicted of insulting state officials, and 29 were convicted of slander.14

The coverage period was notable for the trials and convictions of journalists, bloggers, and media workers who were initially arrested in 2020 and 2021. More than a dozen bloggers were tried in late 2021, receiving prison sentences ranging from 1.5 to 18 years. Twelve of those sentenced received a total of 113 years behind bars.15 A number of others who were arrested during the same period were still in pretrial detention as of mid-2022.

One of the heaviest penalties was imposed on opposition activist Siarhei Tsikhanouski, who operated the YouTube channel Strana dlya Zhizni (Country for Living) and was planning to run for president when he was arrested in May 2020; his wife, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, consequently ran in his place and now leads an opposition movement from exile. Tsikhanouski was sentenced in December 2021 to 18 years in a maximum security prison under Articles 293 (“organizing mass riots”) and 130 (“inciting social hostility”) of the criminal code.”16

Several other political prisoners also received harsh punishments in December 2021. Artsiom Sakau, the videographer for Tsikhanouski’s YouTube channel, was sentenced to 16 years in prison,17 while Uladzimir Tsyhanovich, who ran the popular political YouTube channel MozgON (Brain On),18 and Ihar Losik, who oversaw the Telegram channel Belarus Golovnovo Mozga (Belarus of the Brain) and worked as a journalist for RFE/RL’s Belarusian service, were sentenced to 15 years in prison—all on the same charges as those faced by Tsikhanouski.19 Eduard Palchys, another Telegram blogger who was detained in late October 2020,20 was sentenced to 13 years in prison for the same two offenses as well as Articles 342 (“gross violation of public order”) and 361 (“calls for actions aimed at causing damage to the national security of Belarus”).21

In July 2022, after the coverage period, journalist Ekatarina Andreeva was sentenced to eight years and three months in prison for allegedly committing treason.22 She was previously sentenced to two years in prison in February 2021 for “organizing public events aimed at disrupting civil order”—she had been reporting live from a protest in memory of a citizen who died after being beaten, allegedly by government agents. In April 2022, five months before her scheduled release, the authorities introduced the new charge of treason.23

In June 2022, also after the coverage period, Andrei Kuznechyk, a freelancer for RFE/RL’s Belarusian service, was sentenced to six years in a maximum-security prison under Part 1 of Article 361 of the criminal code (“creating an extremist formation”). He was initially detained in November 2020 on charges of “hooliganism.”24

In May 2022, the Instagram blogger Siarhei Sakavets was sentenced to four years in jail under Part 1 of Article 367 (“slandering the president”) and other provisions of the criminal code.25 Earlier that month, Sofia Sapega—a Russian law student and former girlfriend of Raman Pratasevich, the cofounder of the Telegram channel Nexta—was sentenced to six years in prison under Article 130 and Part 1 of Article 179 (“illegal collection of information on private life”) of the criminal code.26 She initially faced seven criminal charges related to allegations that she was the administrator of the Telegram channel Black Book of Belarus, which published the personal information of security officials and was declared “extremist” by the government. Both she and Pratasevich had been living outside Belarus but were arrested in May 2021, when Lukashenka ordered their airliner, a Ryanair flight traveling from Greece to Lithuania, to land as it passed over the country. Pratasevich was detained because he ran Nexta, Belarus’s most popular Telegram channel, which the government had declared to be “extremist.”27 After his arrest, he appeared in several videos in which he confessed to organizing antigovernment protests; human rights groups consider the confessions to have been forced.28 Although he was charged under multiple articles of the criminal code, he remained in pretrial house arrest at the end of the coverage period.

In April 2022, the feminist Instagram blogger Daria Afanasieva was sentenced to two years and six months in jail under Article 342. She ran an Instagram account that discussed sexism and feminism.29

In March 2022, blogger and activist Pavel Vinahradau was sentenced to five years in prison under Articles 342, 130, and 367.30

Separately that month, Yahor Martsinovich, editor in chief of the independent online newspaper Nasha Niva, and Andrey Skurko, the outlet’s head of marketing, were convicted and sentenced to 30 months in prison for violating Part 2 of Article 216 of the criminal code (“causing property damage”). The government alleged that they had deliberately underpaid the outlet’s utility bills.31 In July 2021, government forces had raided the offices of Nasha Niva, which had a print edition until 2018 and remains one of Belarus’s oldest media outlets, and arrested Martsinovich and Skurko, initially charging them under Article 342.

In January 2022, Pavel Yukhnevich, administrator of the Telegram channel Atolina (named after a district in Minsk), was sentenced to four years in a maximum-security penal colony.32 He was detained in March 2021 and charged under Articles 342 and 361 of the criminal code.

In November 2021, Uladzislau Martisnovich, a medical student and administrator of a Telegram channel that highlighted problems in the country’s health system, was sentenced to four years in a penal colony.33 He was initially arrested in November 2020 and charged under Article 361 on the grounds that his Telegram channel’s materials “aimed at destabilizing the situation in the country, artificially inflating tensions and confrontations in society, spreading the ideology of extremism, and weakening patriotism in society.”

Also in November 2021, Mikola Dziadok, a Telegram blogger and anarchist, was sentenced to five years in prison and charged under Article 361.34 He was initially arrested following the August 2020 election and charged under Article 342.35

In October 2021, Henadz Mazheika, a journalist with the Belarusian version of Komsomolskaya Pravda, was charged with “inciting hatred” under Article 130 of the criminal code for publishing an online article about the controversial case of Andrei Zeltser, an ICT professional who died during a KGB raid on his apartment in September 2021.36 According to the government, shots were exchanged during the raid, and both Zeltser and an officer were killed. The publication of the article led to the blocking of the newspaper’s website; its print version had been banned since 2020.37 Mazheika had yet to be tried at the end of the coverage period, but he faced up to 12 years in prison.38

In August 2021, Uladzislau Savin, an Instagram blogger, was arrested and charged under Article 342, among other alleged offenses.39 In March 2022, Savin was sentenced to 8 years in a penal colony.40

In May 2021, government forces raided the Minsk and regional offices of, one of the country’s most popular independent news sources, and the residences of some of its journalists. They arrested 15 employees and associated figures and opened a criminal case against the company for gross tax evasion (Part 2 of Article 243 of the criminal code). In October 2021, the government opened a new case against the media workers for alleged incitement of hatred. Some have been released after months of detention, but the charges against them have not been dropped.41 At least three others remained in jail awaiting trial at the end of the coverage period.42

In March 2021, journalist Dzianis Ivashyn was arrested for "interfering in the activities” of a police officer. In October of that year, it was reported that Ivashyn was also charged with treason, for allegedly cooperating with the Ukrainian website Infonapalm.43 In June 2022, after the coverage period, Ivashyn’s case was brought to court, and the trial began behind closed doors in August.

Separately in March 2021, Dzianis Urad, a captain in the armed forces, photographed a classified letter regarding the use of the military in law enforcement activities, including the suppression of protests, and leaked it to a Telegram channel based in Poland. Following his arrest, Urad was convicted of treason and sentenced to 18 years in prison in May 2021.44

In January 2021, police arrested Andrei Aliaksandrau, a high-profile online media worker and journalist who has written for leading domestic and foreign media organizations, and his partner, Iryna Zlobina. The authorities charged them under Articles 342 and 243 of the criminal code. They were accused of illegally paying the fines of 250 arrested demonstrators through an independent crowdfunding platform.45 In June 2021, the government added an additional charge of treason under Article 356 of the criminal code, which carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison, against Aliaksandrau. The authorities alleged that he took part in “betraying state secrets of the Republic of Belarus to a foreign state, international or foreign organization, or their representatives.” The trials of Aliaksandrau and Zlobina began in June 2022, but the judge decided to suspend the process for at least two months.46

Ordinary users of Telegram have also been persecuted for posting critical content and commentary. In February 2021, the authorities began classifying Telegram channels and chats as “extremist.” By August 2021, the Viasna Human Rights Center was tracking at least 30 trials related to the distribution of allegedly “extremist” materials (Article 19.11 of the administrative code) via Telegram. In these cases, defendants had been sentenced to a total of 162 days in prison.47 The government reported that 680 criminal cases were launched against “destructive” Telegram channels during 2021.48 Telegram users were also prosecuted for defamatory statements. For example, Dzimitry Zalomski, who is deaf and mute, was sentenced in September 2021 to two years in jail for “insulting a government official” and “insulting the president through his Telegram posts.49 Following the Zeltser incident in September 2021 (see above), the authorities identified and arrested more than 200 citizens for making allegedly “offensive” comments about the case on Telegram and VK.50

The government has similarly begun to prosecute individuals for posting critical videos on TikTok. There were at least five cases of prosecution for TikTok videos in 2021 and eight in 2022.51 In June 2021, for example, two criminal cases were opened against a Minsk resident who posted fragments of a video of herself sitting on a World War II “eternal flame” memorial draped in a prodemocracy flag. She was charged with “desecration of the monument to the defenders of the fatherland” (Article 346 of the criminal code) and for “hooliganism” (Article 339).52 She fled the country before the trial.53 In February 2022, Andrei Shchyhel, a cultural worker, was accused of "insulting the president” in two TikTok videos. He was sentenced to 2.5 years in a work camp.54

In March 2022, the government began arresting editors of Wikipedia, an important online source of independent information for Belarusians.55 Mark Bernshtein was detained for “distributing fake anti-Russian information” regarding the war in Ukraine. Bernshtein, who was credited with over 200,000 edits, was one of the top 50 editors of Russian-language Wikipedia.56 On June 23, 2022, his trial began in Minsk, and the next day he was sentenced to three years of home confinement.57 In April 2022, the authorities ruled on a criminal case against editor and human rights activist Pavel Pernikov for publishing "knowingly false information" (Article 369 of the criminal code) about the Belarusian police and authorities. He was credited with more than 84,000 edits, including on online media issues.58 Pernikov was sentenced to two years in prison for “discrediting Belarus.”

Even sharing a link to publications that are designated as “extremist” can lead to administrative liability. In 2021, courts imposed at least 43 administrative fines and at least 104 terms of administrative imprisonment based on such charges. For example, husband and wife Siarhei Krupenich and Anastasiya Krupenich-Kandratsiyeva were arrested in mid-July 2021 and subjected to nine sequential terms of administrative detention for personal messages in which they exchanged 10 links to publications that the authorities had banned as “extremist.” They each spent a total of more than three months in prison.59

Raman Vasiukovich, a freelancer with the online outlet Current Time,60 was fined in July 2021 for working without the required government accreditation (Article 23.5 of the administrative code).61 The government issued 32 fines under Article 23.5 from January to September 2021.62

The persecution of internet users extended beyond the borders of Belarus. Since August 2020, dozens of Belarusians have been arrested in Russia for acts of dissent against the Belarusian government, such as insulting Lukashenka online. A number of these Belarusians were deported or extradited during the coverage period, while others were awaiting decisions from the Russian authorities.63

For more than a decade, the government has targeted lawyers who defend political, media, and civil society representatives. Since 2020, the authorities have criminally prosecuted or revoked the licenses of more than 50 lawyers—at least 30 of them during this report’s coverage period. The state actions against some of these 30, including Andrei Mochalov, Anton Gashinsky, and Natalia Matskevich, were likely related to their defense of journalists, bloggers, media workers, and online activists, as well as political figures. Others, such as Alyaksei Telegin, were persecuted because of critical statements they made online.64 New amendments to the Law on the Bar and Legal Advocacy that took effect in November 2021 restricted which lawyers and law firms can defend clients facing criminal or administrative charges.65

C4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the government place restrictions on anonymous communication or encryption? 1.001 4.004

Several legal provisions, which were apparently enacted in part to discourage online criticism of the authorities,1 limit users’ ability to communicate anonymously.

Under 2018 amendments to the Media Law, anyone posting materials and comments online must identify themselves to the owners of the Belarusian websites on which they are posting. Resolution 850,2 issued that year, specifies that commentators should register with the websites using their mobile devices.3 Only one account can be created on a given site for each mobile phone number. Website owners must store the personal data they collect on registered users—including name, gender, date and place of birth, mobile phone number, email address, and IP address—for one year.4

Through a system known as Passport, the Ministry of Internal Affairs links mobile service subscribers to their real-world identities.5

Belarus has blocked the use of VPNs and Tor since 2015, though they remain accessible in practice.6 In August 2020, the government blocked additional circumvention tools, including the proxy service Psiphon.7 Under Resolution 218 (1997) of the Council of Ministers, the import and export of encryption technology is prohibited without a license from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the Commission on Information Security.8

Users of public Wi-Fi hotspots must submit their mobile phone numbers.9

  • 1“Закон аб рэгістрацыі каментатараў негатыўна паўплывае на імідж краіны [Comment registration law will negatively affect the country’s image],” Racyja, April 14, 2019,
  • 2“Об утверждении Положения о порядке предварительной идентификации пользователей интернет-ресурса, сетевого издания [On approval of the Regulations on the procedure for preliminary identification of users of an Internet resource, a network publication],” Council of Ministers, November 26, 2019,
  • 3“Belarus: New decree severely limits right to anonymity online,” ARTICLE 19, January 4, 2019,….
  • 4“Совет министров утвердил порядок идентификации интернет-комментаторов в Беларуси [Council of Ministers approves the procedure for identifying Internet commentators in Belarus],”, November 26, 2018,
  • 5All Belarusians and foreigners in Belarus must provide their passport information when purchasing a SIM card or mobile subscription. Belarusians’ passport information is part of an electronic database including personal data that is accessible by the Belarusian government, including the Ministry of the Interior. See “Operation Heat in Action,” Charter 97, July 31, 2021,
  • 6Tetyana Lokot, “Belarus bans Tor and Other Anonymizers,” Global Voices, February 25, 2015,….
  • 7“В Беларуси заблокированы 73 ресурса, среди них – сайты Радыё Свабода, Еврорадио, ‘Медиазона. Беларусь’ [73 resources have been blocked in Belarus, among them the sites of Radio Svaboda, Euroradio, ‘Mediazona. Belarus’],” Current Time, August 21, 2020,
  • 8"Об установлении запретов и ограничений на перемещение товаров через таможенную границу Республики Беларусь [On the establishment of prohibitions and restrictions on the movement of goods across the customs border of the Republic of Belarus]," Decree of the Council of Ministers, March 18, 1997, No. 218,
  • 9“Free Wi-Fi at ten Minsk metro stations in 2019,” BelTA, December 5, 2018,….
C5 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does state surveillance of internet activities infringe on users’ right to privacy? 1.001 6.006

The Belarusian government employs systematic, sophisticated surveillance techniques to monitor its citizens and control critical expression online. Legislation grants the authorities the “unlimited right” to undertake surveillance of persons suspected of planning to commit a crime or offense, with no judicial authorization or oversight.1 Activists and journalists have expressed fears that their offices are bugged, their phone calls are monitored, their locations are tracked, and their online communications are at risk of being hacked.2 Lukashenka has publicly confirmed and boasted of the government’s wiretapping practices.3

The government monitors email and internet chat rooms; it likely tracks opposition activists’ emails and other web-based communications. Authorities conduct raids and confiscate computer equipment and mobile phones to collect personal information on independent journalists. State-run television and online media have aired “leaked” telephone conversations, video messages, audio recordings, and personal correspondence that appear to have been obtained via surveillance.4

In 2021, hacks of and leaks from government bodies revealed widespread wiretapping and drone surveillance of protests by the authorities (see C8).5

As Telegram’s popularity surged in 2020, the government ramped up efforts to monitor and infiltrate chats, including closed groups, on such messaging apps. For example, security forces created fake Telegram accounts to provoke and entrap Belarusians who sought to assist Ukraine in March 2022, following the Russian invasion.6

The government has long sought to develop and enhance its surveillance capabilities. Decree No. 187, which Lukashenka issued in the wake of mass demonstrations in 2017,7 created a centralized real-time video-monitoring system.8

The government has acquired surveillance hardware and software from Chinese, Russian, US, and Israeli companies. The Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei has been supplying video surveillance systems to the government since 2011.9 Beltelecom is working with Huawei on its development of 5G technology, which includes facial recognition for the purpose of creating a “smart mobile checkpoint.”10 Meiya Pico, the Chinese digital forensics and cybersecurity company, has trained Belarusian officials.11

Since 2010, the government has been using the Russian-developed System of Operative Investigative Measures (SORM),12 which provides the authorities with direct, automated access to communications data from landline telephone networks, mobile service providers, and ISPs.13 The Belarusian government also uses Semantic Archive, a software package developed in Russia that monitors open-source data such as blogs, news outlets, and social media.14

Grayshift, a US company, and Cellebrite, an Israel-based digital intelligence company, have supplied the Belarusian authorities with tools for hacking into locked mobile devices.15 Experts believe that Cellebrite’s technology was used by security forces to hack smartphones during the postelection crackdown that began in 2020.16 In response, Cellebrite announced in 2021 that it would no longer sell its products to customers in Belarus.17

In 2020, the European Union (EU) purchased 15 surveillance drones for the Belarusian authorities, despite opposition activists’ fears that they could be used to identify protesters.18 In 2019, Danwatch and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) reported that the EU had provided surveillance equipment worth more than $2 million (5 million rubles) to the State Border Committee.19 This took place in spite of an EU ban on the export of equipment that may be used for internal political repression.

Belarus has also developed a domestic capacity to produce surveillance tools. The Belarusian company Synesis is a leading producer of intelligent video surveillance systems. It oversees a nationwide network of video cameras that was projected to number 13,000 by 2021.20 Following the Belarusian government’s support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the US government sanctioned Synesis because of its links to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the use of its technology to suppress protests.21

In Belarus, there is no independent judicial or other oversight of the government's electronic surveillance practices. The resulting lack of transparency makes it difficult to assess the state’s full surveillance capabilities and activities.

C6 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does monitoring and collection of user data by service providers and other technology companies infringe on users’ right to privacy? 0.000 6.006

All telecommunications operators are required to install surveillance equipment, making it possible for the government to monitor traffic in real time and to obtain related metadata and data—such as users’ browsing history, including domain names and IP addresses visited—without judicial oversight. Since 2016, all ISPs have been required to retain information about their customers’ browsing histories for one year.1 Companies are also required to preserve identifying data regarding their customers’ devices and internet activities for at least five years and to turn over this information at the government’s request.2 According to Amnesty International, however, identifying data may sometimes be preserved for up to 10 years.3

Pursuant to Resolution 850 (see C4), website owners are required to store the personal data of all registered commenters.

A new law on “personal data protection” was approved by the parliament in May 2021 and took effect that November.4 It is the first law specifically dedicated to protecting personal data in Belarus. On paper, the law offers many of the same rights accorded to EU citizens by the bloc’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).5 However, independent experts noted that the legislation, which uses terminology similar to Russian legislation, could be employed by the state to limit the activities of online actors such as bloggers, freelance journalists, and investigative NGOs, as well as opponents of the government.6 The law gives the state-run OAC, which oversees and monitors the Belarusian internet space, the power to obtain data on people using online services from telecommunications service providers.7

In October 2021, a presidential decree established a new body, the National Center for Personal Data Protection. It is supposed to be an independent public body,8 but it has already become part of the government’s crackdown on independent media. In January 2022, the center asked Twitter to remove or delete information from the accounts of four independent Belarusian media outlets based outside the country. As of the end of the coverage period, it remained unclear whether Twitter complied with the order.9 The issue of data protection became more prominent during the coverage period because of the repeated doxing of government officials and their accomplices by antigovernment hackers (see C8). Belarus is not a party to the Council of Europe Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data.

Hotels, restaurants, and other entities are obliged to register guests before providing them with wireless access, whether free or paid.10

Websites on the national .by and .бел domains must be physically hosted in Belarus.11

C7 1.00-5.00 pts0-5 pts
Are individuals subject to extralegal intimidation or physical violence by state authorities or any other actor in relation to their online activities? 1.001 5.005

Government intimidation of and attacks against online journalists and communities continued during the coverage period. Since the 2020 election and related protests, state agents have used threats, arbitrary detention, torture, and physical violence in an attempt to suppress the work of independent journalists and bloggers.1 From January to September 2021, 68 journalists were injured or faced violence while practicing their profession.2 From January 2021 through April 2022, the government conducted more than 150 searches, many of which featured physical violence, targeting the offices and homes of journalists, media workers, and ordinary users. By October 2021, more than 300 journalists and other media workers had left the country to escape such persecution.3

Many of those imprisoned during the previous coverage period continued to experience torture and intimidation in 2021–22. In a report covering the period from the 2020 election to the end of 2021, the UN Human Rights Council found that “sexual and gender-based violence, including psychological violence, was regularly used against both women and men in detention to intimidate and punish those perceived as pro-opposition.”4

While the number of incidents was likely smaller during the coverage period due to the exodus of journalists from the country, online reporters have been among those tortured.5 Nasha Niva journalist Katsiaryna Karpitskaya spoke out on her Facebook page about the inhumane conditions she experienced during her August 2021 detention.6 The online publication’s editor in chief, Yahor Martsinovich, was beaten after being detained in July 2021.7 Mikola Dziadok, an anarchist journalist who was sentenced to five years in prison in November 2021 (see C3), also reported that he was beaten and tortured following his August 2020 arrest. Police asked him to provide information on administrators of numerous Telegram channels.8 The relatives and lawyers of jailed journalists are pressured by the government to sign nondisclosure agreements barring them from talking about the cases or the conditions under which the journalists are being held.9

The OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) noted that the televised confession of Raman Pratasevich—and, by extension, those of other online activists and users—“may be a sign they were coerced or tortured.”10 Security forces began releasing such videos of detainees, often before their trials, in the fall of 2020. The so-called “repentant” videos are designed to humiliate those arrested, intimidate critical voices, and reinforce the power of the state.11 They appear on government-linked social media and messaging channels and are broadcast on state media. In 2021–22 this practice accelerated and became more inhumane. The subjects of the videos were “dressed up” with props, accompanied by degrading special effects and music, and their appearance was demeaned. The detainees were forced to disclose personal information—some of it incriminating, such as drug use—and sexual practices.12

In another attempt to intimidate and isolate Belarusians who oppose the government, progovernment Telegram channels in August 2021 published a 15-page list of more than 150 “traitors of Belarus,” including journalists, and warned employers that they should not hire them because “they will ruin your business.”13

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights ascertained that since the 2020 election, at least 100,000 Belarusians have sought safety by fleeing the country.14 Among these were hundreds of media workers and, in many cases, their families. In numerous instances, émigrés expressed fear that their family members who remained in Belarus were being harassed or intimidated by the authorities.15

The homes of independent journalists and other critical voices have been frequently ransacked under the pretext of searches by security forces.16 As with the “repentant” videos, the police publish videos with “before and after” scenes of the trashed apartments—in violation of Belarusian law—to intimidate opponents. In one case, a police Telegram video imitated the format and music of a popular home-improvement television show.17

The political crisis in Belarus has led to an increase in hate speech against LGBT+ people. While monitoring by the local organization Journalists for Tolerance (J4T) found a decrease in hate speech in the media during the first half of 2020 in comparison with 2019, it noted a significant increase in the latter half of the year, with the onset of the postelection protests. Experts noted that one major use of this content was to attack political opponents.18 The trend accelerated in 2021, with approximately every fourth publication on LGBT+ topics in the Belarusian media during the year containing manifestations of hate speech.19 In February 2022, the government closed down MAKEOUT, an NGO focused on gender, sexuality, and gay rights in Belarus; the project included an online magazine.20

Some of the “repentant” videos have addressed sexual orientation in a bid to shame and marginalize detainees. Videos of the forced confessions of Telegram channel administrator Artyrom Boyarsky, A1 mobile operator spokesperson Nikolai Bredelev, and Hyundai AvtoGrad head of marketing Sergei Babashkov, which were circulated by state media, included coerced “admissions” of homosexuality.21

For the first time, Belarusians faced hatred and criticism from Ukrainian state and independent media, as well as ordinary Ukrainians on social media, in reaction to the Belarusian government’s role in providing logistical and other support for the Russian invasion.22 One Belarusian journalist considered the “dehumanizing narratives” coming from the Ukrainian media and public as “no different from the rhetoric that the ‘Russian world’… has used since 2014 to dehumanize every single Ukrainian in the eyes of the Russian electorate."23

C8 1.00-3.00 pts0-3 pts
Are websites, governmental and private entities, service providers, or individual users subject to widespread hacking and other forms of cyberattack? 1.001 3.003

Prior to the August 2020 election, technical attacks were not pervasive in Belarus. In the wake of the political crisis, however, the quantity of cyberattacks carried out by both the government and independent groups increased. This trend accelerated following the Belarusian government’s facilitation of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

A May 2021 report found that the Belarusian government employed DNS spoofing to censor the internet.1 Civil society researchers documented how the authorities injected “fake entries into DNS servers, causing users to be directed to fake and malicious websites.” When individuals attempted to access prodemocracy websites, the DNS response would be substituted, and the connection interrupted. According to the joint report from the civil society organizations Access Now, Article 19, Human Constanta, and International Media Support (IMS), the state-owned NTEC was responsible for the disruptions.2

Members and entities of Belarus’s ICT community played a prominent role in the 2020–21 protests, and the government targeted them during the ensuing crackdown. In response, an anonymous group of ICT specialists known as the Cyber Partisans began retaliating in September 2020, mounting hacking attacks against the state.3 This group of self-described “hacktivists” uses irony, website defacement, doxing, and leaking to weaken and discredit the Lukashenka government.4

During the coverage period, the Cyber Partisans released secret police archives, lists of alleged police informants, personal information about top government officials and spies, video footage gathered from police drones and detention centers, and recordings of phone calls from a government wiretapping system.5 In July 2021, the Cyber Partisans launched “Operation Heat,” a broad cyberattack on the Belarusian government, which included the publicizing of phone calls that were secretly recorded by the government and the doxing of government officials.6 The Cyber Partisans work with BYPOL, an opposition group made up of current and former security personnel that publishes information related to violations of human rights by security forces and leaks data about law enforcement officers via Telegram and YouTube channels,7 and with the Black Book of Belarus,8 a Telegram channel that also doxes law enforcement officers.

One expert called the work of the Cyber Partisans “as comprehensive of a hack of a state as one can imagine.”9 Beginning in January 2022, the group repeatedly hacked Belarusian Railways, attempting to slow the movement of Russian troops and military supplies across Belarusian territory ahead of and during the invasion of Ukraine.10

Ghostwriter, an international hacking group that is likely linked to the Belarusian government, has promoted anti-US narratives and opposition to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) among Belarus’s immediate neighbors since 2016. Following the 2020 election and protests, Ghostwriter focused on undermining the governments of Poland and Lithuania, which have supported the Belarusian democratic opposition.11 It also targeted independent media, journalists, and dissidents in Belarus prior to the election.12 Ukrainian officials blamed Ghostwriter for attacking more than 70 Ukrainian government websites in early February 2022.13 One report linked the group to a campaign designed to compromise European officials working with Ukrainian refugees.14 In February 2022, Meta blocked domains used by Ghostwriter to hack the social media accounts of Ukraine’s troops (see B5).15 The following month, Google’s Threat Analysis Group reported that Ghostwriter was conducting phishing campaigns against Polish and Ukrainian government and military officials.16

In the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, international hackers, including the group Anonymous, launched a sustained attack against websites, including government and state media pages, in Belarus and Russia.17 Anonymous claimed to have hacked more than 2,500 websites linked to the Belarusian and Russian governments.18 A number of Belarusian government websites remained inaccessible through the end of the coverage period.

In February and March 2022, dozens of news sites in Belarus and Russia experienced distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks on an unprecedented scale. While the main media targets were the sites of Russian news outlets such as Kommersant, Izvestia, and RT, which are read in Belarus, a number of independent websites hosted in the .by zone were also attacked. Among the latter was, Belarus’s largest remaining nonstate internet portal.19 Users saw an antiwar banner when they tried to access the site.20

In March 2022, Charter97, a leading Belarusian opposition news and political website, reported that it had experienced a massive DDoS attack, with the site’s servers receiving millions of malicious requests that disrupted access for real users. The malicious traffic was disguised as the website’s standard user behavior, making it difficult to filter; however, the site was able to weather the attack and continued functioning. It remains unclear who was behind the incident, as Charter97 is hosted outside of Belarus, where it has been blocked since 2018.21

Belarus is not a party to the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime. DigitCert, one of the largest website certification companies;22 Avast,23 a cybersecurity company; and other technology companies decided to cease working in Belarus after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and this withdrawal of security products and services will likely result in more hacking, cybercrime, and government surveillance in the country.

On Belarus

See all data, scores & information on this country or territory.

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  • Global Freedom Score

    8 100 not free
  • Internet Freedom Score

    28 100 not free
  • Freedom in the World Status

    Not Free
  • Networks Restricted

  • Websites Blocked

  • Pro-government Commentators

  • Users Arrested