Belarus Without Internet Amid Election Controversy and Violent Attacks on Protestors

Following questionable election results, Belarus unleashes military force on its citizens during widespread internet blackouts and power outages. 

What Happened:

Belarusians have launched unprecedented protests and criticism against the government after the reelection of President Lukashenko on August 9th and nation-wide power outages. Lukashenko has been in power since 1994, and claims to have won approximately 80 percent of the vote for his sixth term in office. 

Lukashenko and a state-owned media company, ISP RUE Beltelecom, have both blamed foreign interference and cyberattacks for the blackout. Yet, IT experts have pointed out that Belarus’s centralized internet infrastructure could be easily unplugged by the government. 

The election results and aftermath have spurred criticism from the international human rights community, and even U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, who condemned the violence against protestors. 

Why it Matters:

Targeting Protestors and Dissidence

The blackouts took out social networks and messenger apps used by protestors, such as WhatsApp and Twitter, as well as popular search engines like google. Belarusian independent media outlets were also among the initial targets. 

Human Rights Abuses

The Belarusian police and military have detained more than 7,000 people, and one person has died in custody. Unidentified police have detained and beaten protestors and non-protestors alike.

Ties with Russia

The Eastern European nation of 9.5 million has remained in Russia’s sphere of influence since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Belarus depends on Russia for fuel and economic trade, though opposition leaders have taken anti-Russian stances. 

Lukashenko has traditionally maintained a positive relationship with Putin, but the arrest of more than 30 Russian “mercenaries” in Minsk on charges of inciting protests before the elections has stirred up conflict. However, there is reason to believe this was a political ploy to show Lukashenko can stand up to Russia.