Internet services are reported to have been significantly disrupted in multiple areas of Belarus, including Minsk, on Sunday, August 9, as the country goes to the polls for its presidential election. Multiple journalists and monitoring groups reported that mobile network users had been blocked from accessing social media sites, while others stated that they had been unable to access virtual private network (VPN) servers since Sunday morning. Some fixed-line internet connections were also reported to have experienced disruptions which increased throughout Sunday. Unconfirmed reports suggest that the disruptions may be a response to distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks on the State Security Committee and Ministry of Internal Affairs.
Security has been heightened across Belarus for the election, with security forces establishing multiple checkpoints in Minsk and other cities. Opposition groups had previously announced plans to hold demonstrations in Minsk on Sunday to coincide with the vote. Protesters are expected to gather in the vicinity of polling stations from 18:00 (local time) ahead of a large demonstration at the Minsk Hero City Obelisk at 22:00 and may also march on either Prospekt Nezavisimosti or Prospekt Pobeditelej. Demonstrators are expected to demand that the Central Electoral Commission perform a transparent vote-counting process and release election process documents to the public. Opposition groups also plan to gather at the Minsk Hero City Obelisk and public spaces in other cities on Monday, August 10, from 19:00 to coincide with the declaration of the election results.
Further disruptions to internet services are likely in the near term. Localized disruptions are also likely around polling stations and any protest gatherings on Sunday, which are likely to be dispersed by security forces.
President Alexander Lukashenko is currently seeking a sixth term in office. The likelihood of Lukashenko's victory has been increased by the barring of the two main rivals - Valery Tsepkalo and Viktor Babariko. However, the run-up to the election has seen increased opposition protest activity. The main opposition candidate is Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who ran following the arrest of her husband, Sergei Tikhanovsky, in May. Rallies in support of Tikhanovskaya have attracted thousands of attendees in Minsk and major cities across the country.
Those in Belarus are advised to monitor the situation, avoid all large public gatherings as a precaution, adhere to instructions issued by local authorities and their home governments, and refrain from discussing politically sensitive topics in public or on social media.
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