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Last Updated: Friday, 2 December 2005, 15:19 GMT
Belarus tightens up protest laws
Laura Sheeter
BBC News

Protest in Minsk over missing people in Belarus
Belarus has been accused of human rights violations by Western groups
The parliament of Belarus has passed a law intended to stop mass protests - ahead of 2006 presidential elections.

The law will make it a criminal offence to "discredit" the Belarusian state both within Belarus and abroad - with a three year jail term for offenders.

The new law was passed overwhelmingly by the lower house of the Belarusian parliament on Friday.

Officials say it will help prevent protests similar to those that led to Ukraine's so-called Orange Revolution.

The new law makes it a criminal offence to deliberately make available to foreign states or organisations, false information on the political, economic or military situation in Belarus, or to discredit Belarus or its government.

Anyone found to have done so could face between six months and three years in prison.

Sanctions threat

The bill broadens the scope of existing legislation - it is already illegal in Belarus to criticise the President, Aleksandr Lukashenko, or any top officials.

The head of the Belarusian KGB, Stepan Sukhorenko, said the law was intended to stop a wave of protests like those in Ukraine last year during the Orange Revolution.

Belarus will have presidential elections in 2006, when President Lukashenko - who has been in power for 11 years - intends to stand for re-election.

The Belarusian government is accused by human rights organisations and Western governments of rights violations, and for preventing freedom of speech.

The United States and the European Union have barred top Belarusian officials from entering their territories, and threatened tougher sanctions if next year's election is found to be neither free nor fair.

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