Belarusian authorities continue to disrupt internet access and restrict online content in response to nationwide protests over fraudulent presidential elections held August 9. As a result, the United States along with 35 other nations issued a statement condemning the ongoing use of partial and complete Internet shutdowns by the regime of Alexander Lukashenka.
Shutdowns and blocking or filtering of services unjustifiably limit the rights of peaceful assembly and freedoms of association and expression, the statement noted. In conjunction with restrictive measures and intimidation employed against opposition candidates and the mass arrests and detentions of Belarusian peaceful citizens and journalists, actions to limit access to the Internet, including social media and other digital communication platforms, further erode civic space.
The United States and its allies will continue to stand with the courageous people of Belarus, who are making their voices heard in spite of these oppressive measures. It is noteworthy that women are playing a central role in calling for fairness and accountability. Indeed, every Saturday since the fraudulent election, there has been a peaceful women’s protest, with thousands of women attending, condemning violence and urging Lukashenka to step down.
Civic space online is integral to a vibrant civic space off-line. Governments should not block or hinder Internet connectivity, as shutdowns often undermine human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the rights of peaceful assembly and freedoms of association and expression that form the basis of a democratic society.
Internet shutdowns impact all users, especially marginalized groups and those in vulnerable situations. Shutdowns limit media freedom and the ability of journalists and human rights defenders to report on human rights violations or abuses and hold governments accountable. Shutdowns and restrictions also limit the dissemination and free flow of information, harm economic activity, contribute to social and political disorder, and negatively affect public safety.
Human rights must be protected online just as they are protected off-line. The U.S. and its fellow signatories call on Belarusian authorities to refrain from Internet shutdowns and blocking or filtering of services and to respect Belarus’s international human rights obligations. It is incumbent on the government of Belarus to respect civic space, including respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, democracy, and the rule of law.
All human rights violations related to the Belarusian election must be independently investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice.