Internet explosion backfires for Europe’s last dictator
Protesters at the Revolution through Social Networks demonstration in Minsk, summer 2011. Photo by Siarhei Balai.
Belarus’s plans for economic growth through internet expansion backfires as social protests move online. Report reveals Europe’s last dictatorship now clamping down on internet dissent with new technologies for total state surveillance of the population.
A report released on Friday by Index on Censorship details the harsh response of the authoritarian government in Belarus after it realised its policy of promoting internet expansion had provided a platform for online dissent in Europe’s last dictatorship. Belarus: Pulling the Plug identifies the ways President Lukashenko is now scrambling to restrict online freedom of expression in a country that has one of the worst human rights record in the world.
Andrei Aliaksandrau, Index’s Belarus programme manager, said:
Alexander Lukashenko has significantly expanded his government’s control over the internet in the last two years. Few people in Belarus realise the level of state surveillance now being carried out by Lukashenko’s security services. This poses a huge threat to internet activists in Belarus. The threat of a three year prison sentence for libel against online journalist Andrzej Poczobut shows this threat is real.
The regime is using sophisticated digital methods to curtail free speech made possible by new technologies including:
Web filters: Index on Censorship tested the WiFi at locations across Belarus including the Institute of Journalism of the Belarus State University in Minsk which filtered five of the major independent websites
Surveillance techniques which allow the state to intercept all online traffic
The removal of secure access to particular websites including Facebook to potentially compromise users’ logins during election periods
The creation of fake versions of independent websites (zapraudu.info, nn.by, charter97.org) to create ‘clone sites’ with out of date news – and DNS re-routing.
The threat to online freedom also comes from long-established methods the regime uses to chill free speech including: the restrictive media law of 2008, criminal libel laws and using unrelated laws such as ‘petty hooliganism’ to silence opinion with impunity.
The paper reports that the government of Belarus is one of the first to use distributed denial of service attacks (DDoS) to collapse the servers of opposition websites such as charter97.org.
Mike Harris, Head of Advocacy at Index on Censorship said:
State surveillance is yet another way that Lukashenko is compromising freedom of expression in Belarus. Index calls on the government to end online surveillance, release political prisoners and support its citizens’ rights to free expression. The European Union must also act to stop the export of surveillance technology to places like Belarus.
The report recommends that the European Commission supports the parliamentary motion tabled by Marietje Schaake MEP calling for a bar on the export of surveillance equipment to authoritarian states.
For more information, please contact Head of Advocacy, Mike Harris: , 07974 838468.
The launch of Belarus: Pulling the Plug marks the second anniversary of the 2010 presidential election in Belarus, which was followed by a severe clampdown on civil society, independent media and political opposition. After protests on 19 December 2010 in Minsk, more than 700 Belarusian citizens were detained and served administrative arrests; seven oppositional presidential candidates (out of nine running) were charged with organising of mass riots; most of them received sentences of imprisonment, and one of them, Mikola Statkevich, is still in prison.