On August 9, 2020, the people of Belarus took to the polls to vote for their president.
After Alexander Lukashenko, who’s been president for the past 26 years, presumably won a new term with 80 percent of the votes in his favor, widespread protests erupted.
Now the authorities are trying to restrict access to information and digital freedom.
But as local journalists and internet freedom organizations are reporting an increase in internet blocks and outages, we will not leave Belarus stranded.
If you need a CyberGhost VPN key to escape digital censorship, we’re here for you.
A new chapter for Belarus
President Alexander Lukashenko has ruled Belarus for the past 26 years. His government has retained much of the country’s Soviet-era policies and state control, consolidating an authoritarian rule. But his popularity dropped in the past months.
In the latest elections, Lukashenko’s opponent was Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. She ran as an independent in place of her husband, an activist jailed for his videos criticizing the regime.
During her campaign, Tikhanovskaya amassed great support from across the spectrum of Belarus’s political opposition and drew a crowd of 60,000 supporters in Minsk alone.
With a staggering 80 percent of the votes in his favor, Lukashenko was deemed the winner. But Belarusian people took to the streets to protest what they deemed to be rigged elections. They ask for the president’s resignation, the man who’s been dubbed the “last dictator in Europe.”
The Freedom March led to the largest gatherings in Belarusian history, with as many as 200,000 people reported in Minsk.
Belarus Freedom march is the largest gathering in Belarus history! pic.twitter.com/2SwS59qfLS— Franak Viačorka (@franakviacorka) August 16, 2020
Violence in the streets
The protests in the aftermath of the election bring the regime’s tight grip on power back into question.
When confronted with the demonstrations, Lukashenko promised he would take a swift response. And he did, just not in favor of the population.
The Belarusian riot police were sent in to disperse the crowds with stun grenades. As demonstrators ran away, officers chased and detained them. If anyone resisted arrest, they could expect violence.
Several people were badly injured, with a 25-year-old man dying in custody. His mother said he had been held in a police van for hours.
It got so bad that when a group of demonstrators stopped to block the road, the police stormed out of a bus towards them. The brutality that followed was shocking.
To restrict mobility, the subway in the capital of Minsk has been closed.
Police forces have started going around blocks of flats, grabbing anyone they can. This includes people who did not join the protests or even teenagers, by some accounts.
The president has also dismissed the majority of protesters as being jobless or having a criminal past. As such, he instructed the government to find jobs for them.
With so little information coming out of the country, it’s difficult to assess the impact the protests have had. Right now, it’s estimated that around 7,000 people have already been detained.
Blocking access to information
Belarus was never known for its freedom of speech protection laws. In the World Press Freedom Index, the country ranked 153rd out of 180 in 2020.
It comes as no surprise that Lukashenko’s regime also stifled the protesters’ ability to spread awareness and prevented journalists from reporting on the events by shutting off the internet.
The authorities throttled Twitter in an attempt to try to block it.
We're seeing blocking & throttling of Twitter in #Belarus in reaction to protests contesting the election result. #KeepItOn— Twitter Public Policy (@Policy) August 10, 2020
Internet shutdowns are hugely harmful. They fundamentally violate basic human rights & the principles of the #OpenInternet.https://t.co/DN3pc4TkWC
Euroradio, an independent radio news station, has also been blocked in several parts of the country.
For days, Belarusians have had little information about the unrest in their streets, as state-run TV stations didn’t report on it. Protesters got their news from Nexta, a Belarus-based online media organization that runs a Telegram channel with over 1.3 million subscribers.
An internet shutdown is a huge mistake by the authorities.Roman Protasevich, Nexta’s editor-in-chief for the BBC
Plenty of other websites and social media platforms could not be accessed. Even Telegram has only been sporadically available.
By now, it’s clear that the government is restricting information access to stop the protests, and it doesn’t matter what platforms get caught in the crossfire.
Dismantling censorship in Belarus
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Here at CyberGhost VPN, we have always stood for freedom. And we stand with the people of Belarus in their fight against censorship.
If you’ve impacted by the internet shutdowns in the country, know that our team is dedicated to making sure your right to digital privacy and access to information is respected.
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For any questions on how our VPN can help, we’re here for you, so don’t hesitate to leave a comment down below.
Be safe out there, Ghosties, and keep on fighting the good fight!