Control over online news websites and social media networks in Belarus may soon become tighter. The lower house of the parliament approved draft amendments, which now needs to pass one more reading before the draft enters into force.

According to the bills under consideration, companies providing news online to voluntarily register with the information ministry as media outlets.

However, individuals would not be allowed to register news websites, and it would be forbidden to use private residences for online media activities.

As reported by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), people working for unregistered online news sites would be denied accreditation and therefore would be unable to turn to Belarusian officials for comments. They would also be denied the right to make audio and video recordings in Belarus.

Also, unregistered media outlets would not enjoy the right to keep their sources of information secret.

The proposed amendments would require news websites to keep data on their servers for at least six months.

Local and international human rights groups have accused the government of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka (Alexander Lukashenko), who has maintained power since 1994, of systemically quashing independent media, political opposition, and civil society groups.