Internet blackout in Belarus leaves protest groups in the dark

Telegram messaging

Protest groups in Belarus are attempting to use Telegram to organise anti-government action, but say an alleged internet shutdown orchestrated by the government has been effective in slowing them down.

Mobile phone internet has been offline since protesters clashed with police on Sunday, accusing President Alexander Lukashenko of rigging a landslide re-election win. One person died in another night of protests on Monday.

Limited WiFi internet access is only sporadically available after users install a separate programme, while many social networking websites are blocked. Lukashenko has denied the authorities are trying to shut down the internet.

Alexander, 42, a protester in Minsk, said he had not read a news article or social media post in two weeks:”I can’t see the news so I really don’t know anything.”

He said he went home on Monday evening believing the protests in Minsk had stopped, but across town, violent clashes were raging in many districts, with some protesters construction barricades and police firing rubber bullets and stun grenades.

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Many protesters in Minsk told journalists at our partner news agency Reuters that hey had joined the protests spontaneously and were just following crowds of people they’d seen.

Twitter said, “We’re seeing blocking & throttling of Twitter in #Belarus in reaction to protests contesting the election result. #KeepItOn.”

“ANTI-CENSORSHIP TOOLS”

Lukashenko, a former collective farm manager who has ruled Belarus since 1994, has blamed the net outages on “foreign forces” he says want to fan public discontent.

The Telegram messenger, which is sporadically accessible through WiFi, said it had allowed “anti-censorship tools” but that the service was “very unstable as internet is at times shut off completely in the country”.

Several protest groups on Telegram attempted to help guide medical help to areas where it said protesters were proven to be hurt.

Nexta, among those groups, runs a channel on Telegram covering the protests in detail and publishing dozens of demonstration videos. The channel has rapidly increased in popularity, gaining hundreds of thousands of followers since the election.

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On Tuesday, it circulated a call for Belarusians to go on strike to demand the recognition of Lukashenko’s most important election rival, Svetlana Tikhanouskaya, as the legitimate winner of Sunday’s polls. Tikhanouskaya has fled to neighbouring Lithuania because the election to join her children there.

Nexta reported that workers at a sugar plant, an electrotechnical mill and a chemicals institute had gone on strike in protest. That could not immediately be confirmed.

The team at Platform Executive hope you have enjoyed this news article. Initial reporting via our content partners at Thomson Reuters. Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky and Tom Balmforth. Edited by Gareth Jones.

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