Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko, shown here speaking in Minsk on February 20, 2024, has overseen an unprecedented media crackdown since popular protests against his disputed re-election in 2020.
Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko, shown here speaking in Minsk on February 20, 2024, has overseen an unprecedented media crackdown since popular protests against his disputed re-election in 2020. (Photo: Belarusian Presidential Press Service via AP)

Belarus takes more than 20 ‘extremist’ news websites offline 

New York, April 23, 2024—The Committee to Protect Journalists strongly condemns Belarusian authorities’ decision to cancel the domain names of news websites they labeled as “extremist” and calls for an end to the use of extremism legislation as a censorship tool to silence independent reporting.

In an April 4 order, the Operational and Analytical Center (OAC) under the President of the Republic of Belarus, a government agency that protects classified information and manages the internet domain name reserved for Belarus ending in .by, said that it would take offline all websites that the ministry of information added to its list of extremist materials.

On April 22, at least 20 news websites on this list that use the Belarus top-level domain displayed a message saying that the website “is not accessible,” according to CPJ’s review. 

Authorities have used “extremism” legislation to detainfine, and jail critical journalists and block numerous popular outlets they have labeled as extremist. Anyone who distributes extremist content can be held for up to 15 days, while anyone charged with creating or participating in an “extremist” group faces up to 10 years in prison under the Belarusian Criminal Code. There are additional penalties of up to eight years in prison for financing extremism and up to seven years for facilitating extremist activity.

“Robbing independent media outlets of their domain names – and the Belarusian public of important information – is a ruthless form of censorship,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “After jailing or forcing into exile independent journalists and silencing critical media, Belarusian authorities are trying to stifle the free flow of information on the internet by weaponizing their shameful extremism legislation.” 

Belarus has seen an unprecedented media crackdown since popular protests against the disputed re-election in 2020 of President Aleksandr Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994.

Barys Haretski, deputy head of the exiled Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), an advocacy and trade group, told CPJ that the authorities in 2023 canceled the domain names of three independent media outlets —, Brestskaya Gazeta and — as well as BAJ’s domain name in January., which is known for its investigative work, and Media-Polesye said they received letters from the OAC informing them that their websites’ domain names would be cancelled on April 15. 

Another blow to independent media

Svitlana Harda, editor-in-chief of Media-Polesye, told CPJ that the move was “another blow to the independent media, proof that readers are being deprived of their right to receive objective information.” 

She said the number of visitors to Media-Polesye was only just approaching the volume that it had been before authorities blocked the website in September 2021.

“We almost reached the previous figures and here is a new blow,” she said, adding that the outlet moved to a new domain name and informed its readers before April 15. editor-in-chief Fyodar Pauluchenka told CPJ that the outlet would have to try to ensure that all of its readers knew that it had moved to a new internet address but its work would not otherwise be affected. 

“This is rather a symbolic loss,” said Pauluchenka, whose award-winning website was also blocked by the Ministry of Information in 2021, forcing its staff into exile.

“What is more important here is that the Belarusian authorities violated international obligations on fair distribution of national domain names. There should be a reaction to such actions, not only from fellow journalists, but also from international organizations that manage the internet,” he said, referring to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a nonprofit responsible for handling domain name disputes.

BAJ’s Haretski said that his organization moved to a new domain name in November, before their original one was cancelled on January 3. He said the move had a “serious impact” on BAJ’s work because the group’s social media handles were named after its internet address, which was widely distributed online.

He said media outlets whose domain name was canceled were likely to see a drop in audience figures because readers could not find the old websites that they had bookmarked and search engines like Google ranked established websites higher than new ones. 

CPJ’s emails to the Operational and Analytical Center and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers requesting comment did not immediately receive any responses.