On August 9, network telemetry data confirmed that internet connectivity in Belarus was majorly disrupted amid tense presidential elections. Outages increased the whole day creating an information vacuum as citizens strived to gain contact with the outside world. The outage continued into August 10, 2020.
Furthermore, the real-time network data show that social media and other services became unavailable on multiple fixed-line and cellular operators.
“Network metrics indicate that some internet disruptions affecting Belarus started at ~3:00 a.m. local with brief but high impact observed in Minsk, varying by route. A second wave of disruptions began as Belarus2020 polls opened, exhibiting increasing severity as of noon.”NetBlocks.org
Initially, real-time metrics showed a 50% drop in connectivity. It affected the international routes offered by several major network operators. Minsk experienced widespread outage impact briefly at midnight UTC. The incident then started once more in the morning and went on to affect most major online services by the afternoon.
Most of the online platforms have become unreachable with social media and news sites affected the most. Currently, the outage is still ongoing and wider disruptions are coming into place as time goes by.
Military convoys took to the streets of Minsk
On August 8, thousands of protesters went public supporting the opposition. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko wants a sixth term in office but the geopolitical landscape is causing him problems.
Military convoys took to the streets of Minsk on Sunday. However, the internet disruptions have caught observers unprepared and frustrated fact-checking efforts. News media had reported the authorities’ plan to shut down internet service during the elections.
A telecommunications firm worker listed a schedule of politically motivated restrictions. But, national cyber-security response center Belarus CERT said that the internet disruptions aimed at blocking incoming cyber attacks.
Belarus opposition candidate rejects election results
The main opposition candidate in Belarus’s election, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, rejected the results that gave the incumbent a landslide victory. Her team vowed to remain within the country and push for a change of power.
“I will believe my own eyes – the majority was for us.”
Svetlana told reporters in the capital, Minsk after the commission announced the results. She considered herself as the winner and said the elections were massively rigged. Her team wants a vote recount and a peaceful change of power.
Belarus’s election commission said on August 10 that Lukashenko won 80.23% of the vote with Svetlana getting 9.9%. The opposition candidate has enjoyed a popular wave of support with her political rallies attracting the biggest crowds since the Soviet Union era.
Preliminary results resulted in unexpected protests in cities across the country. These protests pose a great threat to Lukashenko, ‘Europe’s last dictator’, who has held power for the past 26 years.
Bloody clashes erupted between the police and demonstrators with more protests expected to happen on Monday night. Xi Jinping of China and Vladimir Putin of Russia quickly endorsed Lukashenko’s victory. Volodymyr Zelenskiy of Ukraine almost congratulated the embattled president in a statement where he called for restraint.
Belarus’ interior ministry denied allegations that one person died during the riots. But, emerging photos showed protestors with bloodied faces, blown off feet, and broken fingers getting medical assistance from the field medics. One protestor who chose to remain anonymous said:
We’re tired of this rudeness, this nastiness. We’re tired of these [exit poll] numbers, which are a spit in the face.”
A plumber added:
“Everyone has come out because we have been cheated. When they gave her [Tikhanovskaya] just 6% [per exit polls], and she had won 70%, it was outrageous.”
The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, called for the publication of accurate results and condemned police brutality. She commented: “Harassment and violent repression of peaceful protesters has no place in Europe.”
Lukashenko said the protesters are ‘sheep’ under foreign control aiming to spoil the holiday. He said:
“I warned that there wouldn’t be a Maidan, however much some people want that. People need to settle down, calm down.”
Analysts believe that this is the deepest crisis Lukashenko has handled in his tenure as president. People feel disgruntled by his handling of the economy and a dilapidated COVID-19 response.
He jailed opposition leaders before the elections and accused Russia of sending mercenaries to destabilize the country. Some of these challenges might have pushed the president to order for a massive internet connectivity disruption to prevent protesters from communicating efficiently.
One professor at the University of Alberta and an expert on Belarus, David Marples, stated:
“It’s certainly the biggest protest I’ve ever seen in Belarus since Lukashenko came to power. In terms of the elections that Lukashenko’s held, there’s been nothing like it. It seems to me that the whole country is in favor of a change.”
Tikhanovskaya has grown in popularity in recent months and two female politicians joined her in a ‘trio’. Together, they have managed to transform the image of Belarus’ male-dominated politics.