Belarus Government Shut Off The Internet During Elections

In the aftermath of a contested election Belarus apparently shut down most Internet access in the country and the long-time incumbent president Alexander Lukashenko has returned to office with apparently eighty percent of the vote. Belarusians experienced Internet blackouts and the major social networks, instant messengers, and search engines have been inaccessible, while the rest of the world has been unable to open websites hosted on Belarus’s national domain. 

Reports that Belarus might disable Internet access during the presidential race first started appearing several days before the presidential election concluded.  Major media outlets reported similar information, citing anonymous sources claiming that the blackouts would begin late on August 8, one day before the end of voting.

Outside Belarus, Internet users started having problems accessing websites hosted on the .by domain, which belongs to Belarus. Access to other online resources hosted on servers in Belarus also began to falter. In remarks to the press, Alexander Lukashenko directly blamed the country’s Internet blackouts on hostile foreign actors. “Our specialists are now determining where this shutdown is coming from. So if the Internet is working poorly, that’s not our doing but an initiative from abroad,” the president said. 

Officials at RIPE NCC (the Regional Internet Registry for Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Central Asia) have expressed doubts about Lukashenko’s version of events. Externally shutting down Internet access is extremely difficult in a technical sense and it’s virtually impossible to maintain for an extended period of time.

  • In May, the popular opposition blogger Syarhei Tsikhanouski who had declared his intention to run for president was arrested. 
  • A second contender for the presidency, Viktor Babarika, was arrested on charges of criminal conspiracy. A third, Valery Tsepkalo, fled the country fearing political persecution. 
  • In mid-July, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Tsikhanouski's wife, registered as a presidential candidate in his stead. If elected, she promised to rule for six months and hold free and fair elections; she drew crowds of thousands and inspired a nationwide protest movement.

When election day came on August 10 ther were numerous reports of ballot stuffing and falsification and  when the country's electoral commission reported that Lukashenka had won 80.3 percent of the vote and Tsikhanouskaya 9.9 percent, opposition supporters widely suspect electoral fraud.

Widespread protests followed the election, which saw authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko win his sixth consecutive term.

As of the morning of August 10, Belarusian Internet users were still experiencing difficulties getting online. The country's three largest telecom providers (A1, Life, and MTS) all apologised for outages caused by “reasons outside our control,” reported the website Tut.By, a popular search engine and news aggregator.

This interruption did not come as a surprise. On July 19, mobile Internet in Minsk was blocked for a short period during a large rally at which Tsikhanouskaya was present.

Meduza:          Global Voices:       The Cyberwire:      Fox News

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