Belarus declares opposition Telegram channel “extremist”

Belarus protests Telegram

One of Belarus’ main sources of information about the ongoing protests in the country has been declared “extremist” by a court in Minsk. The Nexta Live Telegram channel dedicates nearly all of its content to covering post-election demonstrations which began after President Aleksandr Lukashenko declared victory in a disputed vote on August 9.

Minsk’s central district court ruled on October 20 that both Nexta’s channel and its logo are “extremist,” ordering the information ministry to restrict access to its content on the Belarusian internet.

The decision to act against the Telegram channel is unprecedented even for Belarus, where authorities have at times shut down the country’s internet to prevent people organizing protests and blocked access to independent online media sites. The channel is effectively the country’s main news source about the protests, with nearly two million people subscribed, a staggering number for a country of about nine and half million. The channel has lost about 10,000 subscribers since the court case was announced.

Coda has previously reported on the crucial role of Telegram channels sidestepping censorship from Belarusian authorities. Legal experts say they do not know how this ruling will affect subscribers or how the Nexta team operates in neighboring Poland.

“I want to understand whether we all need to delete this channel from our smartphones now, whether we can still repost content from the channel, and what we need to do next if we’ve previously reposted content from the channel,” Siarhej Zikratski, a lawyer based in Minsk, told Euroradio.

Tatiana Ravinskaya, a lawyer who spoke to EuroRadio, said that in the past the state has not prosecuted people for simply viewing material which is deemed extremist by authorities: “The law does not hold people liable if they view a link that is published in the country’s list of extremist material.”

A number of channels on Telegram have been targeted by authorities this year, with over a dozen administrators jailed. As the largest channel in the country, Nexta was an obvious target, especially as weekly nationwide protests have continued more than two months after the vote.

“Nexta is not just an important channel, it is the number one channel in the country that is organizing the protests themselves,” said Barys Hartetsky, deputy head of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, in a phone interview back in August when post-election protests began.

Nexta-Live announced in a statement that they are now working on a new name and logo for their channel.

Additional reporting provided by Euroradio, our partner in Belarus. Euroradio, as with scores of online news outlets, has been blocked in Belarus since election day on August 9.

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Katia Patin

Katia Patin is a multimedia editor at Coda Story.

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