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Belarus threatens citizens with SEVEN YEARS behind bars just for following opposition social media accounts & news sites online

Belarus threatens citizens with SEVEN YEARS behind bars just for following opposition social media accounts & news sites online
Social media users in Belarus could potentially find themselves facing lengthy stints in prison for signing up to accounts belonging to banned political groups and media outlets on services like Twitter, Facebook and Telegram.

In a statement released on Wednesday, Minsk’s Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime said that the new rules had been signed into force. “On October 12, the Council of Ministers adopted a decision on measures to combat extremism and the rehabilitation Nazism,” officials said.

“As a result, the directorate has begun work on recognizing unregistered groups of citizens engaged in extremist activities, including using online messenger apps and social networks,” the message reads. Those using Telegram channels to participate in discussions and share news will be prosecuted and face up to seven years in prison, the authorities confirm, adding that “those subscribing to extremist channels and chat rooms will face criminal prosecution!”

A number of popular opposition-backing websites and social media accounts have been designated as extremist in recent weeks, including Poland-based NEXTA and one of the country’s most-read outlets, TUT.by. Citizens could soon be sent to jail just for following their accounts online.

Earlier this month, a Belarusian reporter working for the local branch of Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda went missing while on a trip to Moscow, shortly after his apartment back home was raided by security forces. He has since reappeared in a jail in Minsk and is understood to be facing charges of incitement to hatred and insulting government officials. His editors claim he was abducted while in Russia, while the Kremlin has said it has no evidence either way.

Also on rt.com Missing reporter who vanished from Moscow turns up in Belarusian prison, as Kremlin hits out over Minsk’s ban on Russian newspaper

The row comes weeks after IT consultant Andrey Zeltser opened fire on police during an attempt to arrest him in the Belarusian capital. A KGB officer, Dmitry Fedosyuk, was killed in the attack, before Zeltser was himself shot dead.

In the days that followed, Mozheiko published an interview in Komsomolskaya Pravda with a school classmate of Zeltser, who described him as having always stood up for himself and claiming he was not a loud proponent of extreme political views. The next day, Belarus’ Ministry of Information ordered Komsomolskaya Pravda to be blocked in the country. It has since ceased operations there, despite objections to the move from Moscow.

Thousands of activists are thought to have been arrested in the wake of last summer’s Belarusian presidential election which the opposition, and many international observers, claim was rigged in favor of veteran leader Alexander Lukashenko. Large crowds took to the street over the course of several months, and faced a crackdown from security forces in response. Lukashenko has pledged to stand down after passing a new national constitution, which he claims is set to happen early next year.

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