Court declares Telegram stickers extremist
A court in Minsk has recognized two sets of sticker packs for the popular Telegram messaging app as “extremist information products,” marking the first time such images have been branded as prohibited content in Belarus.
The stickers in question are the ‘Luka’ and ‘Sasha 3%’ animated sticker packs, which feature satirical images of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
The designation was made by the court on July 25, but it only drew public attention on Friday after Belarusian authorities updated the Ministry of Information’s website to list what is considered to be extremist content. The list includes books, newspapers, websites, certain social media accounts, Telegram channels and symbols, among other things.
Under a Belarusian law introduced in October, a subscription to banned Telegram channels is considered a basis for investigative action that can result in criminal liability. Subscribers to such channels can be prosecuted as participants in an extremist formation and can face up to seven years in prison.
Last year, Belarusian authorities branded a number of Telegram channels, such as Radio Liberty Belarus, as extremist, arguing that they were responsible for spreading false information. Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makey stated in an interview last year that outlawing such channels and seeking criminal liability for their subscribers was “the right measure.”
Such channels contain “blatant calls to commit certain illegal acts, incitements. Not only insinuations, but also specific appeals,” the minister said. “Therefore, I believe that these kinds of extremist channels should not have an impact on young people, on an unformed psychology.”
The Belarusian Interior Ministry explained that Telegram channels can be recognized “as both extremist material and an extremist formation.” If a channel is recognized as a formation, all of its followers could become defendants in criminal cases. However, if the channel only posts extremist material, there may be no punishment for subscribers unless they actively promote the channel by reposting, donating money, and providing information to the channel.
The ministry has advised all Belarusian citizens to unsubscribe from such channels.