Spread of "false information" on Internet may be criminalized

The Belarusian government considers criminalizing the spread of "false information" on the Internet, including by an anonymous source, Prosecutor General Alyaksandr Kanyuk said Wednesday in Minsk while presenting awards for the "best media coverage" of the activities of prosecutors' offices.

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News websites must provide reliable information as "false information stirs up public opinion and entails unwelcome consequences," said the prosecutor general.

He referred to the experience of Germany, where posting fake news results in hefty fines.

When reached by BelaPAN, Andrey Bastunets, chairperson of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, said that the government's possible plans to criminalize posting "false information" on the Internet were "yet another attempt to tighten the screws on the media scene."

He warned that recent changes had made media regulations increasingly repressive as the government sought to tighten its grip on the media.

"The Internet has long been - and remains so far - the most free medium for distributing information," said Mr. Bastunets. "But the government's most recent efforts considerably expand its opportunities to control information on the Internet and fight information that the government sees as inexpedient, forbidden or that it doesn't like."

The introduction of criminal penalties for the distribution of "false information" would be all the more reason for concern given Belarusian courts' willingness to accept questionable evidence of "incorrect" information violating someone's rights, the expert warned.