Belarus internet ban targets foreign websites

internet banA new internet ban in the former Soviet country Belarus will make the usage or browsing of many foreign websites illegal and punishable by a fine of up to $125. The Library of Congress reports that all Belarusian companies and entrepreneurs will be required to use only locally-hosted websites for conducting business, sales, or exchanging emails. Additionally, e-commerce websites without a local presence will be banned from providing goods or services to anyone in Belarus, meaning that websites like Amazon will not be allowed to sell to Belarusians. Internet cafe owners are required to report any illegal browsing to the authorities for prosecution. Additionally, websites deemed “extremist” or “pornographic” will be banned, bringing to mind a scene from the TV series Scrubs when Dr. Cox says “I’m fairly sure if they took porn off the Internet, there’d only be one website left, and it’d be called ‘Bring Back the Porn’.”

What’s unclear about the law is how it would apply to non-commerce sites like blogs or news sites, or any other website without the .by extension. How about travel booking engines or content for citizens to travel abroad? It’s also unclear how it would affect non-Belarusians doing business in the country, such as Gadling’s blogger Alex Robertson Textor, who recently reported from Minsk. Will this very website become illegal to read in Belarus? We hope not, for any Belarusian readers, and for the sake of internet freedom for all.

Photo courtesy Flickr user decafeined from a protest earlier this year in Istanbul against pending internet censorship in Turkey.