Lowlight: In September 2017, cartoonist Ramón Nsé Esono Ebalé–who had been living in exile–was arrested by Equatorial Guinean authorities while in the country to renew his passport; he was interrogated about his drawings and blog that featured critical commentary on the president, and imprisoned for six months on false charges of money laundering and counterfeiting. After his release in March 2018, the authorities refused to renew his passport for several months, preventing him from returning home to his wife and child in El Salvador.Equatorial Guinean cartoonist Ramón Nsé Esono Ebalé in court in Malabo on February 27, 2018. Ebalé, whose drawings and blog feature commentary critical of the president and the government, was released in March 2018 after being imprisoned for six months on false charges of money laundering and counterfeiting. (AFP/Samuel Obiang)
Leadership: President Alexander Lukashenko, in power since 1994; Europe’s longest-ruling head of state.
How censorship works: Authorities in Belarus exercise almost absolute control over the media; and the few independent journalists and bloggers face harassment and detentions. The state systematically targets influential media outlets and individuals, often in very public ways, arresting journalists, raiding newsrooms, and initiating criminal probes for reporting. In recent years, the government blocked independent news websites including Charter 97, founded by now-exiled journalist Natalya Radina. As the government squeezes independent news outlets, more Belarusians rely on social networks. In recent legislative moves to tighten its grip on digital media, the government in 2018 approved a bill on “fake news” and adopted amendments to the Law on Mass Media that tightened control over news websites and social media. The government has the authority to oversee internet service providers (ISPs), set standards for information security, conduct digital surveillance of citizens, and manage Belarus’ top-level domains, according to Freedom House’s Freedom on the Net report.