Amid airline row, Belarus president signs tough new law restricting media

KYIV, Ukraine — The authoritarian president of Belarus signs a law sharply restricting news media activities and allowing them to be shut down without a court hearing.

The move by President Alexander Lukashenko comes a day after the arrest of a prominent opposition journalist whose commercial flight was forcibly diverted to Belarus because of an alleged bomb threat. The arrest and flight diversion were condemned by Western countries and drew new attention to Belarus’s crackdown on media since widespread protests against Lukashenko arose last year.

Under the new law, news media are banned from making live reports on unauthorized mass gatherings. It also allows the Information Ministry to order a media outlet’s closure; previously, media closures required a court decision.

Other strictures include prohibiting the publication of the results of opinion polls that are not authorized by the government.

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, accompanied by officials, attends a requiem rally on the occasion of the 35th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster in the town of Bragin, some 360 km (225 miles) south-east of Minsk, Belarus, on April 26, 2021. (Sergei Sheleg/BelTA Pool Photo via AP, File)

“This is the most repressive media law in Europe, which turns the work of journalists in Belarus into a minefield,” said Andrei Bastunets, president of the Belarusian Association of Journalists.

Widespread protests rocked Belarus for weeks last year, following an allegedly fraudulent election that gave Lukashenko a sixth term in office. More than 30,000 people were arrested in the protests, many of them beaten by police.

The country has steadily cracked down on journalists, including blocking several major news websites and declaring opposition-minded messaging app channels to be extremist.

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