International response to the internet disruption measures of Belarusian authorities

In relation to the presidential elections, human rights violations have occurred in the online.

The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (TASZ) has also joined the international initiative in which ten Belarusian and forty international organizations have drafted a letter to the UN High Commission on Human Rights, expecting them to take action because, in relation to the presidential elections on 9 August, Belarusian authorities violated human rights and fundamental freedoms by restricting access to the Internet.

The signatories highlight the fact that many opponents of Alexander Lukashenko, the president in office since 1994, were not allowed to run in the elections; one of them, Siarhei Tsikhanouski, was even imprisoned - his spouse, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya ran instead of him, with the support of the opposition. Prior to the elections, criminal procedures were initiated against journalists, bloggers and activists. Foreign reporters were expelled from the country.

On election day, access to the internet was restricted; where networks were still operating, apps such as YouTube, Viber, Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and VKontakte were either partially or fully unavailable. Additionally, domestic news sites and blog platforms were blocked. he most serious case cited in the letter is that the webpage of the alternative ballot-counting system named Golos was diverted to a page which was trying to steal users’ personal data. By election night, the country’s internet connections to abroad were technically shut down.

The signatories of this letter emphasize that the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution in 2018, urging Member States to protect those rights to which people are entitled: freedom of speech, freedom of peaceful assembly and association; and freedom from government restricting access to the internet, particularly specific internet content. The signatories also warn that there could be no legal basis for the measures of Belarusian authorities to restrict access to the internet, given that, according to the Belarusian law on telecommunications, such decisions can only be made in emergency situations or state of war.

The addressees - Irene Khan, recently appointed UN special rapporteur on freedom of speech, Clement Nyaletossi Voule, UN special rapporteur on freedom of assembly and association, as well as Anais Marin, special rapporteur dealing with the situation of human rights in Belarus - are asked to appeal to the government of Belarus in order to remedy human rights violations, and to refrain from the practice of restricting access to the internet, thus making the exercise of freedom of speech impossible.

The letter can be downloaded below.

Internet disruption in Belarus

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