The crackdown on journalists and media in Belarus since the election has not spared online information. In all, more that 70 sites, including media outlets, electronic messaging services and VPNs, have been blocked by the information ministry since August on the grounds that they are used to coordinate opposition activities and circulate calls for mass disobedience. Mobile Internet access has also been restricted during street protests, obstructing journalists’ work even more.
One of the sites unblocked by RSF’s Operation Collateral Freedom is Masheka.by, the main news portal in the eastern city of Mahilyow. Masheka.by, which has become one the leading regional media outlets in recent years, does not define itself as an opposition media. Instead, it aims to cover events in the most interesting and objective manner by using quality photographic and video content. Editor Yuri Retroman says it had no problems with the authorities before being blocked in connection with its coverage of street protests and beatings of Mahilyow residents.
The other site is Vitebsk Kurier, an independent Russian-language newspaper and news portal covering the northeastern city of Vitebsk and the surrounding region. As it covers economic and social problems, as well as cultural activities, it has sometimes been critical of the city’s authorities, with the result that this is not the first time that it has been blocked. The authorities have obstructed distribution of its print edition as well as blocking its website on several occasions in the past.
RSF has also unblocked By.tribuna.com, which is the Belarusian version of Sports.ru and is a very popular sports site in Belarus and eastern Europe, with more than 1.3 million unique visitors a month. It sometimes ventures onto the political terrain when it tackles sports-related problems in Belarus and, as a result, criticizes the authorities. For this reason, it had received several warnings in the past but has just been blocked for the first time.
How and why does RSF circumvent censorship?
These latest additions to Operation #CollateralFreedom bring the total number of sites that RSF is unblocking by means of the technique known as “mirroring” to 26. This technique consists of creating “mirrors” – constantly updated duplicates of the censored sites – and placing them on international Internet servers that are beyond the reach of the censors. The 26 original sites are being blocked by a total of 14 authoritarian or dictatorial regimes. Such regimes are resorting to website blocking with increasing frequency.