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Belarus internet shutdowns condemned in international statement

Twenty-nine countries, including the US, Australia, Germany and Japan, released a joint statement on Thursday condemning the government of Belarus’s reported internet shutdowns and content blocking after the country’s fraudulent 2020 presidential elections.

President Alexander Lukashenko, who has served as the Belarusian President for 26 years, was re-elected on August 9. However, the EU rejected the election results. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has called upon the Belarusian government to stop torturing and mistreating members of the opposition.

In addition to condemning the alleged internet restrictions, the joint statement criticized Belarus’s mass arrests and detentions of opposition civilians and journalists. The statement focused on the need for civic engagement both on and offline and discussed the especially detrimental impact internet shutdowns have on marginalized and vulnerable populations.

The statement ended with the countries demanding action from the Belarusian government:

We call on Belarusian authorities to refrain from Internet shutdowns and blocking or filtering of services and to respect Belarus’s international human rights obligations, including under articles 19 and 21 of the international Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. We call on the Government of Belarus to respect civic space, including respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, democracy and the rule of law.

The joint statement comes amid other significant legal events involving the Belarusian government and elections. On Wednesday, Maria Kolesnikova, an opposition protest leader who was allegedly abducted off of the street by authorities, was charged with undermining Belarusian national security. On Thursday, 17 Office for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) States invoked the OSCE’s Moscow Mechanism to investigate human rights violations in Belarus.