Image: Yuri Samoilov via Flickr

Telegram and WhatsApp down amid protests in remote Russian region

Popular messaging apps are facing disruptions this week in a remote Russian region where hundreds of people have taken to the streets to protest against the sentencing of a local activist. Access to the cellular and internet network of one of the country’s biggest telecom providers was also limited.

According to a Russian internet monitoring website, Telegram has been disrupted in several Russian regions, with the most complaints (28%) coming from Bashkortostan.

Local media also reported that popular messenger platform WhatsApp has been down in the region for nearly three days. The company didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Residents of Bashkortostan appealed to the head of the republic with a request to resume the work of messaging services.

"This is torture, we are like blind. We can’t do anything, we can’t contact our relatives, teachers, or doctors. Don't we have the right to communicate?” one of the residents said.

It is not yet clear what the actual cause of the disruptions is, but local media speculated that the messengers were deliberately taken offline to silence the protestors.

Earlier this week, several Telegram news channels which reported on the protests were blocked.

The company’s spokesperson told BBC Russia that “they did not restrict access to Telegram in any regions of the world, including Bashkortostan.” The company suggested that disruptions may be connected to “the actions of local telecom operators.”

“We experienced DDoS attacks on several channels and a surge in complaints regarding calls for violence, which may have led to the temporary unavailability of some channels,” the spokesperson said. “We are actively investigating the situation."

Russian investigative journalist Andrey Zakharov told BBC Russia that channels covering the protests might also face planned spam attacks.

On Thursday, various Russian regions, including Bashkortostan, reported issues with one of Russia’s major telecom operators, Beeline. As of the time of writing, Beeline's cellular network and mobile xinternet are still unavailable for some residents in Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod, Samara, and Bashkortostan.

It is not yet clear if the Beeline outage is connected to the protests in Bashkortostan, as well as Telegram and WhatsApp disruptions. The company didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Shutting down communication and taking social networks offline is a popular response to protests in authoritarian countries, happening recently in Iran, Belarus, Cuba and Russia.

Such protests in Russia are rare, especially in its remote regions like Bashkortostan, located near the Ural Mountains in Eastern Europe.

The case of indigenous rights activist Fail Alsynov struck a nerve, however, with hundreds of protesters clashing with police after he was sentenced to four years in prison for allegedly inciting ethnic discord and discrediting the Russian army.

The protest in Bashkortostan is one of the largest demonstrations in Russia since the start of its war against Ukraine.

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Daryna Antoniuk

Daryna Antoniuk

is a reporter for Recorded Future News based in Ukraine. She writes about cybersecurity startups, cyberattacks in Eastern Europe and the state of the cyberwar between Ukraine and Russia. She previously was a tech reporter for Forbes Ukraine. Her work has also been published at Sifted, The Kyiv Independent and The Kyiv Post.