From the speaker on a Minsk stage, Viktor Tsoi's “Change” plays as a man in a suit desperately tries to unplug the power cord. At video it seems that it succeeds, but other nearby speakers continue to reproduce the rock classic of the extinct Soviet era. He leaves exasperated. According to those there, it was a Belarusian government security agent trying to silence the protest anthem.
It is the anthem that Belarusians now sing, enraged by the victory, for the sixth consecutive term, of President Alexander Lukashenko. Since he assumed power in 1994, the country has not had free and fair elections again. The last votes, with their respective campaign period, seemed to maintain the tradition.
In May, popular opposition blogger Syarhei Tsikhanouski, who had declared his intention to run for president, was arrested. A second contender, Viktor Babarika, was also arrested on charges of criminal conspiracy. A third, Valery Tsepkalo, left the country for fear of political persecution. In mid-July, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Syarhei Tsikhanouski's wife, registered to be a presidential candidate in place of her husband. If elected, she promised to rule for six months and hold free and fair elections; it drew crowds of thousands of people and inspired a national protest movement.
By election day, August 10, many observers on the ground denounced rigged and falsified votes (the OSCE mission was not accredited quickly enough to monitor the elections). On the morning of Monday the 11th, the national electoral commission reported that Lukashenko had won with 80.3% of the votes, and Tsikhanouskaya had obtained 9.9%. Opposition supporters suspected electoral fraud: “I only believe what I see: The majority were with us,” Tsikhanouskaya declared during a press conference.
On the night of Sunday, August 10, massive protests broke out across the country. The police responded with water cannons, rubber bullets, and stun grenades. An estimated 3,000 protesters were arrested, several seriously injured. Tsikhanouskaya denounced the violence and called for the peaceful protests to continue during the week.
Thats why he August 6 video This scene of protest was the best illustration of how many see the relations between the rulers and the ruled in Belarus today. It is also a perfect metaphor since, apparently, in the run-up to the elections, authorities tried to “disconnect” the cable on a large scale: they blocked the internet.
The revolution will not be tweeted live
Numerous ISPs in Belarus lost routing on the morning of August 9, when the polls opened. Several journalists who were in the country on election day confirmed major disruptions to LAN, wireless and mobile data networks. Some managed to access websites with virtual private network services.
Internet in Minsk is very bad. Many reporters got offline. And we receive significantly less of UGC.
Websites are down. You can still send some text via Telegram (w Proxy), Signal (unstable), Facebook Messenger (sometimes it works for texts.) Slack is the best so far.
– Franak Viačorka (@franakviacorka) August 9, 2020
The internet works very badly in Minsk. Many journalists are offline. And we get a lot less user-generated content.
The websites don't work. Some text messages can still be sent via Telegram (with proxy), Signal (unstable) and Facebook Messenger (sometimes works for texts). Slack seems to be the one that works best, for now.
Users who complained about the loss of connection with their internet or mobile phone providers received automated messages from robots apologizing for the interruption of service, but did not provide a concrete explanation.
Друзья! Сегодня по независящим от нас причинам наблюдаются сложности с доступом к сервисам через мобирильный мобириноный мобириноный мобириноный мобириноный мобириноный мобириноный. Как только наш вышестоящий провайдер продолжит корректное обслуживание, доступ будет восстановлена восстановлена востановлена.
– А1 Беларусь (@ a1belarus) August 9, 2020
Friends! Today, for reasons beyond our control, we are experiencing difficulties in accessing mobile and fixed internet services. As soon as our traffic provider fixes the fault, access will be restored automatically.
Since the morning of August 10, Internet users in Belarus continued to have problems connecting. The three largest telecommunications providers in the country (A1, Life and MTS) apologized for the outages citing “no fault of our own,” reported the website Tut.By, a popular search engine and news collector.
The blocks also appeared to have spread to specific websites. On the morning of election day, Zubr.in was inaccessible; It is a local platform that allows users to submit complaints about violations of the electoral law through a Telegram robot. Likewise, as soon as the polls closed, Naviny and Tut.By (the two largest independent news platforms in the country) and the Nasha Niva media site were inaccessible.
Golos, a local platform that includes a parallel voting system, was also the target of a denial of service attack that tried to collect personal data from users.
However, this blockage is not surprising. On July 19, the mobile network in Minsk was also interrupted for a short time amid a large demonstration in which Tsikhanouskaya was present. By July 29, some popular Telegram channels and social media accounts were publishing guides for users to evade impending internet blackouts, offering links to free virtual private network services and tips for installing the Tor browser.
On August 4, the well-known Telegram channel NEXTA published snapshots of an email, apparently from a local bank employee, warning a customer that digital banking services could be inaccessible for the next few days. Also, on Saturday the 8th, some journalists from the Russian media Moskovsky Komsomolets in Minsk reported that when they went to buy local SIM cards, the seller warned them that they would probably not work, as mobile data and internet connectivity would be blocked in the whole city during the next day.
The NGO NetBlocks, which records internet blocks around the world, released the following statement:
Network telemetry from the NetBlocks internet observatory confirm that internet connectivity in Belarus has been significantly disrupted as of Sunday 9 August 2020 amid tense presidential elections. Outages increased in severity through the day producing an information vacuum as citizens struggled to establish contact with the outside world. The incident is ongoing as of Monday afternoon.
NetBlocks internet observatory network telemetry confirms that internet connectivity in Belarus was seriously disrupted since Sunday, August 9, 2020 amid a tense presidential election. The blackouts increased in severity throughout the day and caused an information gap as citizens struggled to establish contact with the outside world. The incident is still ongoing on Monday afternoon.
During the whole day of 9 August 2020 Internet access in Belarus was wholly or partly limited. Blockings were either total or concerned specific Internet services, web sites, social networks, messaging services, whether local or global. It is alleged that the Belarusian authorities decided to block data transfer protocols which led to the disruption of connectivity of the Belarusian networks. All foreign traffic was directed through one channel only in an attempt to allow for deep-packet inspection making VPN services ineffective.
During the entire day of August 9, 2020, internet access was totally or partially interrupted in Belarus. The blocks were total or affected specific local or global internet services, websites, social networks and messaging. It is alleged that the Belarusian authorities decided to block data transfer protocols, leading to the disruption of the connectivity of the country's networks. All traffic from outside was routed to a single channel in order to allow deep packet inspection, rendering virtual private network services ineffective.
Back to Telegram
Telegram's messaging service, especially popular with Russian-speaking audiences, seemed to continue to function during internet outages. Although users complained about the slow loading, they managed to send videos of the clashes between the protesters and the riot police through the most popular channels.
Two of these channels, NEXTA and Belamova, proved indispensable for broadcasting videos and updates from a country that had been virtually offline during the worst moment of the protests, perhaps thanks to the fact that NEXTA's owner was a settled Belarusian blogger. in neighboring Poland. On Election Day, this person was subjected to attempts to shut down his popular Twitter account, which was eventually reinstated:
– Yakov Feygin (@BuddyYakov) August 9, 2020
Twitter technical service, why do they block NextaTV, the only independent channel outside Belarus during a democracy protest?
Several NEXTA posts appeared to come from the polling stations where Tsikhanouskaya had won handily, and included document scans with what were said to be “real” figures in the respective districts. For this reason, observers at the Internet Protection Society, a Russian NGO that advocates for digital rights, believe that the outcome may be positive for the popular messaging platform (Moscow gave up its persistent attempt to block Telegram earlier this year).
These videos and photos from Telegram will play a crucial role in understanding the recent upheaval in Belarus, in view of restrictions on media and other digital sources. However, they are unlikely to be able to change their attitude in the days after a controversial victory. As the spokeswoman for the Interior Ministry, Olga Chemodanova, recently said, not everything that is read on the network can be trusted.