RSF unblocks 3 more sites censored in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, China
MANILA, Philippines – In time for World Day Against Cyber-Censorship on March 12, international media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) announced it is providing alternative online access to 3 news websites that are currently blocked in their respective countries.
In a statement on Monday, March 11, RSF said its Operation Collateral Freedom has unblocked the following websites: ALQST (Advocating for Human Rights), SAFENEWSROOMS.org, and China Digital Times.
RSF uses website mirroring to unblock the 3 websites and the 19 others that have been unblocked since the operation was launched in 2015.
"Collateral Freedom is carried out, thanks in large part to a community of developers who are committed to press freedom," Elodie Vialle, head of RSF's Journalism and Technology bureau, said in the statement.
"This chain of solidarity between ethical hackers and human rights defenders allows RSF to restore online access to independent media in countries that are news and information black holes. It proves that solidarity is the best response to online censorship."
The RSF said a total of 142 million visits have been registered to their "mirror" sites since 2015. The 22 unblocked news websites cover a total of 12 countries "where the media area completely gagged by the authorities."
ALQST, according to RSF, is a website that monitors and reports about human rights violations in Saudi Arabia.
"The attempts by the Saudi authorities to silence us are systematic. And their techniques included the blocking of our site," said Saudi journalist Yahya Assiri, ALQST editor who lives in self-imposed exile in London.
He added: "We try to circumvent the censorship by getting our information on to other online platforms, but the ideal solution, in order to keep people informed about the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia, is this mirror site system, which allows us to increase our readership more easily."
SAFENEWSROOMS.org, meanwhile, documents media censorship in Asia, particularly in Pakistan. RSF said the site was blocked in the country just a few weeks after its May 2018 launch.
"Our site allows internet users to access honest and independent information that the authorities don't want them to read," said Pakistani journalist Taha Siddiqui, the founder of the website who also lives in self-imposed exile in Paris. He was a recipient of the 2014 Albert Londres Prize.
"It was blocked for no reason. But thanks to this operation, we will again be able to inform Pakistanis who thirst for the truth. And we can see that there are many of them. The number of people visiting the site before it was blocked attest to this," Siddiqui added.
The 3rd website, China Digital Times, is an English- and Chinese-language website that "provides uncensored news and information about China."
RSF explained how the operation's website mirroring works – through duplicate sites that are constantly synchronized in real time with the originals, hosted by leading internet companies such as Fastly, Amazon, or OVH.
"It is hard for regimes that are enemies of the internet to block access to the mirrors without cutting themselves off from all the services provided by these internet giants, thereby sustaining major collateral damage. Hence the operation's name – Operation Collateral Freedom," the statement read. – Rappler.com