Belarusian lawmakers are reportedly preparing to consider legal changes that would make almost any criticism of the government “extremist” behavior that could lead to severe punishment including the loss of livelihood and citizenship.
The suggested tweaks to the country’s law on extremism were published by multiple independent Telegram channels on February 18 and would be debated after parliament’s spring session opens on April 2.
Crisis In Belarus
Read our coverage as Belarusians take to the streets to demand the resignation of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and call for new elections after official results from the August 9 presidential poll gave Lukashenka a landslide victory.
RFE/RL was unable to independently verify the authenticity of the proposed amendments, which were reportedly sent to parliament last week.
According to Motolko Pomogi, a Belarusian “press club” that said it was anonymously sent the proposed changes on February 18, the KGB would maintain the list of people and organizations deemed “extremist” and blacklisted violators could be prevented from working in their chosen profession, performing large financial transactions without permission, or engaging in medical, pedagogical, or publishing activities.
Individual entrepreneurs and founders of media organizations labeled “extremist” would be deprived of the right to create other organizations for five years, according to the proposals, and foreigners who have received Belarusian passports could face the loss of their Belarusian citizenship and be deported.
The popular Polish-based opposition news outlet Nexta, which was deemed “extremist” by a Belarusian court in October 2020, also published the 12-page document containing the amendments in full on its Telegram channel.
Nexta wrote that under the changes “almost all state bodies — from the Finance Ministry and the Justice Ministry to local authorities — will fight extremism” and that if adopted “Belarus will in fact turn into a fascist-police state, and all the current legal chaos will become completely legal.”
According to Motolko Pomogi, taking actions aimed at discrediting the Belarusian state would be grounds for being classified as “extremist,” including the use of state symbols that have national historical or cultural value for “the purpose of promoting extremism.”
The Belarusian opposition has adopted the use of the red-and-white flag, which is essentially banned by the authorities, instead of the official green and red flag.
The reported proposals come amid continuing mass protests against the results of Belarus’s presidential election in August 2020 and an ongoing crackdown against independent media in the country.
The protests erupted after long-standing leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka claimed he won the vote by a landslide, while his main challenger, Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, has said she was the rightful victor.
Thousands of protesters have been arrested by Belarusian security forces in the course of anti-government rallies that have been held almost daily since the vote, and beatings at the hands of police have been widely documented.
At least seven journalists are currently behind bars in Belarus awaiting trial for “organizing public events aimed at disrupting civil order” or similar charges.
On February 18, two journalists for Belsat, a Polish-based satellite television station aimed at Belarus, were sentenced to two years imprisonment after they reported live from a rally against the death of an anti-government protester in November 2020.
The journalists, Katsyaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova, have denied the charges against them and called their case politically motivated.