Stickers labeled ‘extremist’ by Belarusian court depict President Alexander Lukashenko
A court in Minsk has recognized two sets of sticker packs for popular messaging app Telegram as “extremist information products”, marking the first time such images have been labeled as banned content in Belarus.
The stickers in question are the “Luka” and “Sasha 3%” animated sticker packs, which feature satirical images of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
The designation was made by the court on July 25, but only came to public attention on Friday after Belarusian authorities updated the Information Ministry website to list what is considered to be extremist content. The list includes books, newspapers, websites, some social media accounts, Telegram channels, and symbols, among others.
Under a Belarusian law introduced in October, a subscription to banned Telegram channels is considered a basis for investigative action that could result in criminal liability. Subscribers to these channels can be prosecuted as participants in extremist training and face up to seven years in prison.
Last year, Belarusian authorities branded a number of Telegram channels, such as Radio Liberty Belarus, as extremists, arguing they were responsible for spreading false information. Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makey said in an interview last year that banning such channels and holding their subscribers criminally accountable was “the right measure”.
These channels contain “blatant calls to commit certain illegal acts, incitement. Not just insinuations, but also specific appeals,” said the minister. “Therefore, I think these kinds of extremist channels should not impact young people, untrained psychology.”
The Belarusian Interior Ministry explained that Telegram channels can be recognized “both as extremist material and as extremist training.” If a channel is recognized as a training, all of its subscribers could become defendants in criminal cases. However, if the channel publishes only extremist material, there can be no punishment for subscribers unless they actively promote the channel by reposting, donating money and providing information to chain.
The ministry advised all citizens of Belarus to unsubscribe from these channels.