Alexander Lukashenko votes in the presidential election. Photograph: Natalia Fedosenko/Tass/Getty
MINSK, BELARUS – AUGUST 11, 2020: Belarusian law enforcement officers guard a street during a protest against the results of the 2020 Belarusian presidential election. Mass protests erupted in major cities across Belarus in the evening of August 9. Natalia Fedosenko/TASS (Photo by Natalia FedosenkoTASS via Getty Images)
MINSK, BELARUS – AUGUST 10: Protestors gather at streets after the early election results in Minsk, Belarus on August 10, 2020. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko won a sixth term in office with over 80% of the vote, the country’s election commission said Monday. Officials maintain the results are valid, however, the opposition candidates protested the results, supported by thousands of people who took to the streets throughout the country. (Photo by Marina Serebryakova/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
MINSK, BELARUS – AUGUST 11, 2020: People hold up a Belarussian flag of 1991-1995 at the death site of a person killed in a clash with law enforcement officers during a protest against the results of the 2020 Belarusian presidential election. According to the Central Election Commission of Belarus, incumbent president Alexander Lukashenko gets 80.08% of the votes, with Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya polling 10.09%. Following the announcement of the election results in the evening of 9 August, mass protests erupted in major cities across Belarus. Nataliya Fedosenko/TASS (Photo by Nataliya FedosenkoTASS via Getty Images)
A policeman guards an area against opposition supporters protesting the election results as protesters encounter aggressive police tactics in the capital of Minsk, Belarus, Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020. Heavy police cordons blocking Minsk’s central squares and avenues didn’t discourage the demonstrators who again took to the streets chanting “Shame!” and “Long live Belarus!” Police moved quickly Tuesday to separate and disperse scattered groups of protesters in the capital, but new pockets of resistance kept mushrooming across downtown Minsk. (AP Photo)
A serviceman blocks an area during a rally of opposition supporters, who accuse strongman Alexander Lukashenko of falsifying the polls in the presidential election, in Minsk on August 11, 2020. (Photo by Sergei GAPON / AFP) (Photo by SERGEI GAPON/AFP via Getty Images)
Belarusian law enforcement officers detain men during a rally of opposition supporters following the presidential election in Minsk, Belarus August 10, 2020. The opposition rejected official election results handing President Alexander Lukashenko a landslide re-election victory. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
Belarusian opposition supporters attend a rally following the presidential election in Minsk, Belarus August 10, 2020. The opposition rejected official election results handing President Alexander Lukashenko a landslide re-election victory. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
A man talks with riot police officers as they block a part of a street in the capital of Minsk, Belarus, Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020. Heavy police cordons blocking Minsk’s central squares and avenues didn’t discourage demonstrators who again took to the streets chanting “Shame!” and “Long live Belarus!” as police moved quickly Tuesday to separate and disperse scattered groups of protesters in the capital, but new pockets of resistance kept mushrooming across downtown Minsk. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
People attend a rally following the presidential election in Minsk, Belarus August 10, 2020. The opposition rejected official election results handing President Alexander Lukashenko a landslide re-election victory. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
As he fights for his political survival, Alexander Lukashenko has taken a big gamble by cutting off the internet across most of Belarus.
Belarusians seeking to protest against his government have been mostly cut off from the outside world: mobile internet has been throttled and popular messaging apps have been disabled, leaving demonstrators scrambling to find wifi connections and working VPNs or proxies to get online and then sharing what news they can find.
The internet blackout, which Lukashenko hopes will disrupt the protests against him for mass vote-rigging in last week’s presidential elections, is a rare example in modern Europe of a country voluntarily knocking itself offline to stifle dissent.
The lack of internet has left protesters in an information vacuum. Popular independent news sites, including Tut.By and Naviny, have been kept largely offline since election day and television news is dominated by the government.
“This long-lasting internet blockage is unprecedented,” said Katsiaryna Shmatina, a political analyst at the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies, noting that the internet was being blocked for longer and more aggressively than at protests in previous years. On Tuesday, there were unconfirmed rumours that the country could cut phone and internet traffic entirely.
With people unable to reach one another, protests have largely relied on popular bloggers on Telegram channels, some anonymous and located outside the country, who suggest meeting points for demonstrations and share videos of protests and breaking news, some of it unverified, that manages to filter through the blockade.
The largest is Nexta, which has more than 1,151,000 subscribers, and has been a key clearing house for videos from this week’s protests and for instructions to protesters. On Tuesday evening, it told its readers to meet at 7pm in small groups of less than 20 and to occupy the streets. “Paralyse the city!”
Related Slideshow: News in Pictures (Provided by Photo Services)
People wear protective masks while walking along a street after Pakistan lifted lockdown restrictions in Karachi, Pakistan, on Aug. 18, 2020.
Bahiya al-Hariri, the sister of Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, reacts after praying at his grave after U.N.-backed tribunal convicted a Hezbollah member of conspiracy to kill al-Hariri in a 2005 bombing, in Beirut, Lebanon, on Aug. 18, 2020.
Zimbabwe Human Rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa (C) speaks to the media outside the magistrates court in Harare, Zimbabwe, on Aug. 18, 2020. A Zimbabwean magistrate barred Mtetwa from representing a jailed journalist after she was accused of running Facebook pages critical of the country’s justice system.
Opposition supporters protest against disputed presidential elections results at Independence Square in Minsk, Belarus, on Aug. 18, 2020.
A view of a flooded farmland on the riverbank and swelling Blue Nile as its water level rises after heavy rainfall in Khartoum, Sudan, on Aug. 17, 2020.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz attends a virtual cabinet meeting in Neom, Saudi Arabia, on Aug. 18, 2020.
Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro (R) and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu meet at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela, on Aug. 18, 2020.
Firefighters try to extinguish fire at a tyre factory in Pekanbaru, Indonesia, on Aug. 18, 2020.
Members of a Harley Davidson Club gather during an initiative to ship aid to Lebanon, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on Aug. 18, 2020.
Students flash the three-fingered Hunger Games salute at an anti-government rally at Mahidol University in Nakhon Pathom, Thailand, on Aug. 18, 2020. The country has seen near-daily protests in recent weeks by university students demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha and a frank discussion of the role of the unassailable monarchy.
People walk past a huge former white-red-white flag of Belarus hanging on the wall of the City Hall in support of Belarusians protesting over the country’s disputed presidential election, in Kiev, Ukraine, on Aug. 18, 2020.
Namal Rajapaksa (R), the eldest son of Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa (L), attends the signing ceremony after assuming duties as the country’s new Minister of Sports and Youth Affairs, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Aug. 18, 2020. Also pictured are his wife Limini and mother Shiranthi Rajapaksa (2nd L) watch,
Afghan security forces inspect a vehicle from which insurgents fired rockets, in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 18, 2020.
Workers from Brazil’s state-run environment agency IBAMA check an area consumed by fire near Novo Progresso in Brazil, on Aug. 18, 2020.
Paramilitary police officers clean up damaged trees and branches after Typhoon Higos approached in Shenzhen, China, on Aug. 19, 2020.
Ecosystem and environmental experts from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) wave as they prepare to leave for Mauritius, at the Narita International Airport in Narita, Japan, on Aug. 19, 2020. Japan is sending a second team of experts to help clean up more than 1,000 tonnes of oil that leaked from a Japanese-owned bulk carrier into pristine waters off the coast of Mauritius.
A devotee sits along the bank of Bagmati river as he offers prayers while performing rituals in memory of his deceased father during Kuse Aunse (Father’s Day) at Pashupatinath Temple, amid the COVID-19 outbreak, in Kathmandu, Nepal, on Aug. 19, 2020.
People put on protective suits outside a temporary hospital in Baghdad, Iraq, on Aug. 18, 2020.
Paramedics carry a stretcher on the bank of a lake after a boat capsized in Thatta district, Pakistan, on Aug. 17, 2020.
Ted Chaiban, UNICEF regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, checks the damages inside the Karantina Governmental Hospital in Beirut, Lebanon, on Aug. 17, 2020, in the aftermath of a massive chemical explosion that devastated swathes of Beirut.
An exam inspector is seen walking across the hall as students of a government secondary school attempt the West African Examination Council (WAEC) 2020 test, after the COVID-19 lockdown, in Abuja, Nigeria, on Aug. 17, 2020.
Israeli security forces gather at Lion’s gate in the Old City of Jerusalem on Aug. 17, 2020, following a reported stabbing attack.
Protestors raise their hands during an opposition rally in Salihorsk, Belarus, on Aug. 17, 2020, after incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko rejected calls to step down in a defiant speech.
A medical worker conducts a COVID-19 test for a traveler returning from Croatia at a test center in Vienna, Austria, on Aug. 17, 2020.
Pakistan’s Army Chief of Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa (R) is welcomed by Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Aug. 17, 2020.
Tunisian Interior and Prime Minister designate Hichem Mechichi (R) greets Italian Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese at Tunis Carthage airport in Tunisia on Aug, 17, 2020. Top Italian and European Union (EU) officials are holding talks in Tunisia to try to stem the growing numbers of migrants crossing from the North African country to Europe.
Shop workers clean up crates of fallen bottles after a 6.7-magnitude earthquake hit near the town of Cataingan in the Philippines on Aug. 18, 2020.
Protesters gather outside the Council of Ministers in the heart of Khartoum, Sudan, on Aug. 17, 2020. Around 3,000 people marched in Khartoum shouting “justice, justice” commemorating the first anniversary of a transitional deal struck between the army and civilians following the toppling of long-time autocrat Omar al-Bashir.
Members and volunteers of the Syrian civil defense, also known as the White Helmets, take part in a scuba diving training session at a lake in Idlib, Syria, on Aug. 17, 2020. The White Helmets is training its volunteers on water rescue skills to prepare an emergency team of divers to help in search and rescue operations for drowning cases.
Civilians stand on the rubble of a damaged building at the scene of a militant attack at the Elite Hotel in Lido beach, in Mogadishu, Somalia, on Aug. 17, 2020.
Kathalbari Government Primary School gets devoured by Padma River at Madaripur, Bangladesh, on Aug. 17, 2020. The school disappeared into the river when river erosion become worse.
Traffic lights stop functioning on a street during a blackout in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Aug. 17, 2020. Sri Lanka faced a nationwide power failure due to a technical breakdown at a power station in Kerawalapitiya on the outskirts of capital Colombo, bringing businesses and daily life to a standstill.
A woman protests the government’s quarantine policies to contain COVID-19 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Aug. 17, 2020.
Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi (C) delivers a speech at the 19th meeting of Myanmar’s Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, on Aug. 17, 2020.
Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani attends the country’s Independence Day celebrations in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 18, 2020.
Residents walk in front of informational murals painted on the side of an apartment block about the coronavirus and paying tribute to medical workers with the messages “We’ll Protect You” and “We Salute You,” in the Buxton residential estate of the coastal city of Mombasa, Kenya, on Aug. 17, 2020.
Kayapo indigenous people block a highway near Novo Progresso, Para, Brazil, on Aug. 17, 2020. Protesters blocked the highway to pressurize Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to provide them with better shield from COVID-19, to extend damage payments for road construction near their land, and to consult them on a proposed railway to transport soybeans and corn.
Tourists sit on chairlifts at the Patriata Resort near Murree, Pakistan, on Aug. 16, 2020. The government announced most of the country’s remaining restrictions would be lifted following the drop in COVID-19 cases.
Syrians ride a bicycle past a mural painted as part of an awareness campaign by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and World Health Organization (WHO) initiative, bearing instructions on protection from COVID-19, in Qamishli, Syria, on Aug. 16, 2020.
Deacons and priests are seen by the altar during a service at the Notre Dame du Congo cathedral in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, on Aug. 16, 2020. This was the first time since March 24 that mass was celebrated here, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
A woman holds a historical white-red-white flag of Belarus as she stands out of a car’s sunroof during a rally in support of the Belarusian opposition, in Kiev, Ukraine, on Aug. 16, 2020.
Divers wave national flags during an underwater flag ceremony at the Seaworld Ancol amusement park to commemorate Indonesia’s 75th Independence Day anniversary in Jakarta on Aug. 17, 2020.
A view of graffiti at the damaged port area in the aftermath of a massive explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, on Aug. 16, 2020.
Pro-democracy protesters attend a rally to demand the government to resign, to dissolve the parliament and to hold new elections under a revised constitution, near the Democracy Monument in Bangkok, Thailand, on Aug. 16, 2020.
Workers install oil absorbent booms to protect the beach from spilled oil from the grounded vessel MV Wakashio, belonging to a Japanese company but Panamanian-flagged, off the coast of Mahébourg, Mauritius, on Aug. 16, 2020.
A woman is sprinkled with color powder during a color festival in Jurmala, Latvia, on Aug. 16, 2020.
Dominican President Luis Abinader (L), poses for a photo with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the National Congress after his swearing-in ceremony in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, on Aug. 16, 2020.
Emergency vehicles are seen at a cordoned off area near the site of a blast at the Elite Hotel in Lido beach in Mogadishu, Somalia, on Aug. 16, 2020.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko thanks his supporters gathered at Independent Square of Minsk, Belarus, on Aug. 16, 2020.
A woman reacts as fire approaches her house in an area of the Amazon rainforest, near Porto Velho, Brazil, on Aug. 16, 2020.
Riot police, behind a burned police vehicle, try to disperse demonstrators during anti-government protests demanding free elections and against corruption outside the provincial council building, in Basra, Iraq, on Aug. 16, 2020.
An Israeli firefighter extinguishes a fire caused by an incendiary balloon launched from the southern Gaza Strip, near the Be’eri Kibbutz, Israel, on Aug.16, 2020.
A demonstrator holds a flare during a protest against violence inflicted on women, in Mexico City, Mexico, on Aug. 16, 2020.
Farmers row boats loaded with guavas on their way to a floating market in Barisal, Bangladesh, on Aug. 16, 2020.
A health worker administers polio vaccine drops to a child during a door-to-door polio vaccination campaign in Lahore, Pakistan, on Aug. 16, 2020.
Iron Dome anti-missile system fires interception missiles as rockets are launched from Gaza towards Israel, as seen from the city of Ashkelon, Israel, on Aug. 16, 2020.
People gather to protest the incessant killings in southern Kaduna and insecurities in Nigeria, at the U.S. embassy in Abuja, Nigeria, on Aug. 15, 2020.
People place flowers at a makeshift memorial as they pay tribute to protester Alexander Taraykovskiy, who was killed during recent rallies against the presidential election results, at the site of his death in Minsk, Belarus, on Aug. 15, 2020.
The Thai courts release Parit Chiwarak, a student protest leader, at Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand, on Aug. 15, 2020, a day after he was arrested on charges of sedition and inciting public unrest.
Men sit by the rubble at the scene of a building collapse along Kasr el-Nile street in Cairo, Egypt, on Aug. 15, 2020.
Protesters confront police officers as they try to march during a rally against the government in Seoul, South Korea, on Aug. 15, 2020. Thousands of anti-government protesters, armed with umbrellas and raincoats, marched through the soggy streets of South Korea’s capital, ignoring official pleas to stay home amid a surge in COVID-19 infections.
Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouli (L) and his Sudanese counterpart Abdalla Hamdok address the press after their meeting in Khartoum, Sudan, on Aug. 15, 2020.
A big Lebanese flag is seen on a damaged building in the aftermath of a massive explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, on Aug. 15, 2020.
A response team employee takes the temperature of passengers disembarking from an Ethiopian Airlines flight at the N’Djili International Airport in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, on Aug. 15, 2020, as travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic are lifted.
A farmer displays dates to customers during Unaizah Season for Dates in Saudi Arabia on Aug. 15, 2020.
A worker passes by parts of a new monument which is equal to a seven-story building in Belgrade, Serbia, on Aug. 15, 2020. The monument to Stefan Nemanja, a 12th century Serbian ruler, was made in bronze by a Russian artist and will be put up in parts due to its height of 75 feet (23 meters).
Volunteers disinfect the prayer hall ahead of the noon prayer at a mosque in Algiers, Algeria, on Aug. 15, 2020, as the country eases COVID-19 restrictions.
Security forces stand guard as Iranian students gather during a protest against a U.S.-brokered deal between Israel and the UAE to normalise relations, in front of the UAE embassy in Tehran, Iran, on Aug. 15 2020.
Ivorian gendarmes face members of the Baoule community as they guard a district of the Malinke community in the village of Anoumabo near Daoukro, eastern Ivory Coast, on Aug. 15, 2020. Several people were killed and over 100 injured in three days of street clashes following Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara’s decision to seek a third term, the government said on Aug. 14.
Demonstrators protest against the results of the Belarusian presidential election in Prague, Czech Republic, on Aug. 15, 2020.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) meets with Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz in Lazienki Palace in Warsaw, Poland, on Aug. 15, 2020.
Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) officials place a floral wreath near a mural dedicated to Bangladesh’s first president and father of the nation, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, during the National Mourning Day in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Aug. 15, 2020. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and most of his family members were assassinated by a group of army officers during a military coup on this day in 1975.
Delivery couriers from the takeout and shopping app service Rappi demonstrate against being blocked from working during the economic recession caused by COVID-19 pandemic, in Bogota, Colombia, on Aug. 15, 2020. Most delivery couriers from Rappi are Venezuelan migrants and delivery apps are one of the only jobs they can apply for.
Men inspect rubble and debris and other damages on a rooftop following an Israeli air strike, east of al-Bureij camp for Palestinian refugees in the central Gaza Strip on Aug. 15, 2020.
People are seen in the yard of a police station that was set on fire by protesters during a demonstration against the decision of Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara to run for a third term in the next presidential election, in Bonoua, Ivory Coast, on Aug. 14, 2020.
A woman embraces a soldier guarding the Belarusian Government building, in an exaggerated show of friendliness, in Minsk, Belarus, on Aug. 14, 2020. Some thousands of people have gathered in the center of the Belarus capital, Minsk, in a show of anger over a recent brutal police crackdown on peaceful protesters that followed a disputed presidential election.
Japan’s Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako bow as they attend a memorial service marking the 75th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II at the Nippon Budokan hall in Tokyo, Japan, on Aug. 15, 2020.
A man wearing an outfit designed as the Pakistani national flag walks along with his children during Independence Day celebrations in Karachi, Pakistan, on Aug. 14, 2020.
Members of the Belarusian diaspora and Ukrainian activists burn flares and hold a banner with the Pahonia coat of arms during a rally in support of Belarusians protesting against rigged presidential elections, outside the Belarusian embassy in Kiev, Ukraine, on Aug. 14, 2020.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz greet each other with an elbow bump as they meet at the Chancellery in Vienna, Austria, on Aug. 14, 2020.
Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi looks at voting lists at an administrative office in Naypyidaw, Myanmar, on Aug. 14, 2020. The Southeast Asian nation is due to head to the polls on Nov. 8.
Estonia’s President Kersti Kaljulaid (L) and Lithuania’s President Gitanas Nauseda, wearing face masks to protect against COVID-19, walk together for their meeting at the presidential palace in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Aug. 14, 2020.
Command and soldiers of Hamza Division Special Forces receive training on human rights and law given by Guidance Delegation of National Defence Ministry in Azaz, Syria, on Aug. 14, 2020.
Applicants wear face masks as a preventive measure while attending a recruitment test for firemen under the Fire Service and Civil Defense department at a college in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Aug. 14, 2020.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi inspects the honor guard during Independence Day celebrations at the historic Red Fort in New Delhi, India, on Aug. 15, 2020.
Parit Chiwarak, a pro-democracy supporter, student and one of the leaders of Thailand’s recent anti-government protests, gestures as he is arrested in Bangkok, Thailand, on Aug. 14, 2020.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex (C) pays homage to the six humanitarian aid workers from the French NGO Acted killed in an attack in Niger, during a ceremony at an airport lounge transformed into a funeral home at the Orly Airport, near Paris, France, on Aug. 14, 2020.
A bird flies over a tract of the Amazon jungle after it burned, near Porto Velho, Brazil, on Aug. 14, 2020.
People cheer while watching fireworks during the Independence Day celebrations in Karachi, Pakistan, on Aug. 14, 2020.
People detained during recent opposition protests against President Alexander Lukashenko following a disputed presidential election leave the Okrestina prison in Minsk, Belarus, on Aug. 14, 2020.
Tel Aviv City Hall is lit up with the flag of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Aug. 13, 2020, as UAE and Israel announced they would be establishing full diplomatic ties. In a nationally broadcast statement, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the “full and official peace” with the UAE would lead to cooperation in many spheres between the countries and a “wonderful future” for citizens of both countries.
Policemen remove a barricade set on fire by demonstrators to block a road during a protest against President Alassane Ouattara’s decision to stand for a third term, in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, on Aug. 13, 2020.
A laborer shifts coal in a basket to unload it from a cargo ship in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Aug. 13, 2020.
Demonstrators gather during an anti-government protest against Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and his government in Sofia, Bulgaria, on Aug. 13, 2020.
Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi speaks during a Joint Implementing Coordination Meeting (JICM) in Naypyidaw, Myanmar, on Aug. 13, 2020.
A worker checks a boy’s body temperature at the entrance to a shopping center in Baghdad, Iraq, on Aug. 13, 2020.
Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša (R) and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hold a joint press conference after their meeting in Bled, Slovenia, during Pompeo’s four-nation visit to central Europe, on Aug. 13, 2020.
Bolivia’s interim President Jeanine Áñez, wearing a face mask amid the COVID-19 pandemic, poses for a photo holding the document that enacts a law that calls for elections on Oct. 18, at the government palace in La Paz, Bolivia, on Aug. 13, 2020. Citing the ongoing pandemic, Bolivia’s highest electoral authority delayed presidential elections from Sept. 6 to Oct. 18, the third time the vote has been delayed.
A fruit seller is seen in Jarabulus, Syria, which was liberated from terrorists during the Operation Euphrates Shield, on Aug. 13, 2020.
Military personnel work on disinfection of the Christ the Redeemer statue ahead of its re-opening amid the coronavirus disease outbreak, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Aug. 13, 2020.
A meteor streaks past stars in the night sky above the Smrike Necropolis during the Perseid meteor shower in Novi Travnik, Bosnia and Herzegovina, on Aug. 13, 2020.
A woman with a face mask walks past graffiti that promotes hand washing and wearing face masks as preventive measures against the spread of the COVID-19, in Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya, on Aug. 13, 2020.
Staff and allies of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the opposition candidate for president who has said she will not recognise the results due to massive vote fraud, said that the shutdown had made it virtually impossible to coordinate action.
“They’ve done this all specially so that people can’t post information and talk about what’s happening in Belarus,” said Veronika Tsepkalo, an ally of Tikhanovskaya. During a trip to the city on Monday, she said, she had been unable to reach either Tikhanovskaya or Maria Kalesnikava. “There’s no internet – you need to go through a VPN. Even the phones barely work.”
The shutdown has disrupted normal businesses, from Belarus’s thriving IT sector to tourism. A receptionist at one of the international chain hotels in Minsk laughed when asked if there was internet at the hotel. “No, there’s no internet in the whole country,” she said.
According to Yana Goncharova of the Minsk-based Human Constanta NGO, the government practised throttling internet traffic as early as July, twice cutting traffic to and from the country at night. Authorities were also targeting popular VPNs, she said, as well as the popular proxy service Psiphon.
The internet blackout was enacted at the level of Beltelecom, the national telecommunications company, and the country’s National Traffic Exchange Centre, she said. Mobile operators have apologised for the service slowdowns but said they took place due to “reasons outside of our control”.
A source at one Belarusian mobile operator told the Guardian: “We’re in shock from what is happening. It’s going to continue until approximately 14 August. We’ve simply been told that this is what’s happening.” Lukashenko has blamed the outages on distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks from abroad, without presenting evidence.
The blackout has left channels on Telegram, a messenger app that has already outwitted a Russian attempt to block it, as the main way for protesters and the media to share information. Along with Nexta, which is based in Poland, are the Belamova channel, which has 340,00 subscribers, and the My Country Belarus channel.
The bloggers share photos and videos from protests, leaks about vote-tampering from the elections, and help coordinate demonstrations, including by setting the times and places where protesters should meet. Readers can also submit their own videos – if they manage to get online.
“So far I would say the major source of information, some of which is unconfirmed and sometimes turn out to be unreliable, are those Telegram channels, such as Nexta, and then some major independent media outlets or TV channels like Belsat – they also post on Telegram,” said Shmatina.
In a Minsk apartment near a protest site on Monday night, protesters and journalists huddled on the floor as police shone flashlights through the windows.
One protester opened Telegram and found a video that purported to show Russian riot police having entered the city. The video has since been judged fake.
“That’s it. Lukashenko has made a deal with Putin and he’s sent him some help,” he said. “He’s given up the country.”
“He doesn’t care about the country,” another person said. “But he’ll never share power with the Russians or with anyone else.”