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Belarus bans journalists from covering mass protests

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Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko. (Photo: AFP)

Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko on Monday approved legislation that would ban reporters from providing real-time coverage of unauthorised mass events, piling huge pressure on independent journalists.

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Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, signed off on these and other controversial amendments as his regime faces global fury over the forced diversion of a European plane with Belarusian dissident Roman Protasevich onboard on Sunday.

The amendments to the law on media and mass events ban reporters from taking part in or organising an unauthorised mass event and providing live coverage of such events.

Any Belarusian national — not just a journalist — is banned from covering an unauthorised rally and using crowdfunding to pay fines over the violation of legislation on mass gatherings, according to the amendments published by state media.

The publication of results of independent polls will also not be allowed.

Belarus was gripped by months of unprecedented anti-government demonstrations that erupted after a disputed presidential election last August saw Lukashenko claim a sixth term in office.

Belarusian security forces unleashed a harsh crackdown against the protests, detaining demonstrators and pushing opposition leaders into exile. Several people have died in the unrest.

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A campaign to muzzle independent media followed, with dozens of journalists already receiving jail terms for covering opposition events.

Lukashenko critics say that the amended legislation legalises the crackdown on independent journalism in the ex-Soviet country.

“Major opportunities have opened up for the eradication of what’s been left of independent media,” Boris Goretsky, deputy head of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, told AFP.

According to the association, nearly 30 journalists are currently behind bars in Belarus.

The interior ministry on Monday published a list of “extremist” Telegram channels including Nexta, which galvanised and coordinated huge protests against Lukashenko.

Journalist and activist Protasevich, who was detained in Minsk on Sunday following the diversion of his Athens-to-Vilnius Ryanair flight, is a co-founder of Nexta and its former editor.

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