Belarus Is Trying to Block Parts of the Internet Amid Historic Protests

Twitter, local journalists, and internet freedom organizations report that there are widespread internet blocks in Belarus.
August 10, 2020, 5:56pm
belarus-protests

On Sunday, thousands of people poured onto the streets of cities in Belarus to protest the result of the presidential election, which saw the long-time president Alexander Lukashenko win with 80 percent of the vote. The government has responded by arresting protesters, and attempting to block parts of the internet. 

On Monday, Twitter announced that it was seeing “blocking & throttling of Twitter in Belarus in reaction to protests contesting the election result.” 

“Internet shutdowns are hugely harmful,” the company wrote in a tweet. “They fundamentally violate basic human rights & the principles of the #OpenInternet.”

The blocks against Twitter appear to be part of a coordinated campaign to disrupt online services. 

Access Now, a nonprofit that tracks internet freedom issues around the world, wrote in a tweet that the authorities in Belarus had blocked access to dozens of websites—including those of independent media—and blocked some Virtual Private Network (or VPNs) services, which allowed citizens to circumvent internet blocks. NetBlocks, an organization that tracks internet disruptions, said that the country has been “largely offline” for almost 24 hours. 

Local journalists reported that their VPNs had been blocked. 

Twitter declined to provide any further details about what’s happening in Belarus. 

The Embassy and the Consulate of Belarus in the U.S. did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Lukashenko, dubbed as the “last dictator in Europe,” has been ruling Belarus for 26 years. His main opponent, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has rejected the preliminary election results, urging people to protest against the government. 

Do you know anything about the internet blocks in Belarus? We'd love to hear from you. Using a non-work phone or computer, you can contact Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai securely on Signal at +1 917 257 1382, lorenzofb on Wickr, OTR chat at lorenzofb@jabber.ccc.de, or email lorenzofb@vice.com.

As VICE News reported from the capital Minsk, government authorities have responded vehemently to the protests, shooting rubber bullets and stun grenades. With parts of the internet shut down, protesters relied on word of mouth to communicate with each other. The Belarus government blamed the internet disruptions on forces “abroad [aiming] to incite discontent among our population.”

Belarus would be the last in a long series of countries that have blocked Twitter in times of conflict and protests, such as Egypt in 2011, Turkey in 2014, and Venezuela also in 2014.

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