Widespread Net disruption surrounds Belarus election coverage

As I mentioned last Friday, local journalists in Belarus were preparing for targeted disruption to Internet communications during Sunday’s presidential elections. The online news site Charter ’97, which has experienced more than its fair share of denial-of-service (DOS) attacks and police raids in the past, was already warning its readers last week to use their Facebook page as an alternative, in the event of its main site being attacked.

The extent of the widespread press crackdown in Minsk is still being measured, but I’ve been reading reports from within Belarus that spell out the drastic Internet side of the restrictions. Not only was Charter ’97 attacked over the weekend, but apparently sites like Facebook and Twitter were also blocked by Belarus ISPs. Even more significantly, there has been widespread filtering of the channels that encrypted communications like “https” and secure email use. These filters aren’t specific to one site, but block traffic based on how it connects to remote sites. That means that not only news or social networking sites, but banking, financial and most website login pages would be disrupted. It also means that journalists on the ground have been unable to access services like Gmail, or even send email directly from mail clients.

Hal Roberts at Berkman has more details. As the Charter ’97 English Twitter feed notes, when your electricity is cut off and editors are being detained, such subtle technical censorship is somewhat of a side-note for journalists working within the country. But during key events, when reporters and eye-witnesses are working with foreign news media, such blocking can seriously hamper the ability to gather information and describe what is happening to the world at large.