Belarus restricts internet to clampdown on organized protests

Demonstrations in Belarus were faced with new problems after authorities clamped down access to the Telegram messaging service by shutting down the internet.

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 a second night of protests on Monday.

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

A protester in Minsk said he went home on Monday evening thinking the protests in Minsk had ended but across town, violent clashes were raging in several districts, with some protesters building barricades and police firing rubber bullets and stun grenades.

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

Telegram messenger, which is sporadically accessible through Wi-Fi, said it had enabled “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 tried to help guide medical assistance to places where it said protesters were known to be hurt.

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

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

READ: Belarusian leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya flees to Lithuania amid political unrest and violence over election results