Major encrypted messaging app provider Telegram has expressed support for the mass protests in Belarus against sitting President Alexander Lukashenko.
On Aug. 25, the Telegram app introduced a new animated emoji to replace the national flag of Belarus with the white-red-white flag. Opposed to the official red and green flag of Belarus, the white-red-white flag is used as a symbol of the opposition to Lukashenko’s regime.
With the new feature, the emoji of Belarus’ national flag automatically turns to the animated opposition flag when a single symbol is typed in a message.
Telegram’s latest gesture of support for the opposition comes amid mass protests against the Lukashenko. The demonstrations were sparked by the country’s disputed presidential election on Aug. 9 that resulted in Lukashenko’s claiming a sixth term with some 80% of the ballot. The European Union subsequently rejected the election’s results, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel arguing that the vote was “neither free nor fair.”
Apart from supporting the ongoing protests in Belarus, Telegram has emerged as one of the most crucial information sources amid the protests. On Aug. 9, Belarus suffered major internet outages, leaving the country of about 9.5 million people without proper access to the web until early on Aug. 12. The outages were subsequently linked to the government, but Lukashenko claimed that the were orchestrated abroad.
During the blackout, Telegram was basically the only means of connecting to the internet, a local source told Cointelegraph. This was apparently a result of anti-censorship tools enabled by Telegram. On Aug. 10, Telegram CEO Pavel Durov announced that the app remained available for most users in Belarus despite the outages.
We enabled our anti-censorship tools in Belarus so that Telegram remained available for most users there. However, the connection is still very unstable as Internet is at times shut off completely in the country. https://t.co/eA4S6Zz36H
— Pavel Durov (@durov) August 10, 2020
Telegram is known for supporting opposition players and political activists. Earlier this year, Durov donated 10 Bitcoins (BTC) to a Russia-based charity project backed by activist Yegor Zhukov. The activist is widely known as a symbol of anti-Kremlin protests.
Meanwhile, matters in Russian politics have been also intensifying as local opposition leader Alexei Navalny was allegedly poisoned on Aug. 20. As Navalny remains in a coma, Russian authorities have apparently still not initiated a criminal investigation regarding the matter.