RSF makes Deutsche Welle website accessible again in Russia

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) used its Operation Collateral Freedom mirror site technology to restore access on 21 march to German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle’s Russian-language news website, which the Kremlin had been blocking within Russia since 4 March.

Before it was blocked, Deutsche Welle’s Russian-language site was one of the most popular news sites in Russia, with an average of 4 millions users a month.

RSF used the same method to restore access to the Deutsche Welle site as it did to unblock Meduza, the most popular independent Russian news site, which was also censored by Moscow.

RSF is able to quickly restore access to a blocked website by creating an exact copy or “mirror” of the site and placing it on content delivery networks (CDNs) that also host many other services and therefore cannot be easily blocked.

If authoritarian governments directly target the CDNs hosting mirror sites, they suffer the collateral damage of blocking their own access to all of the other services provided by the CDNs, creating a multitude of other problems that have no impact on the ease with which RSF is able to put the sites back online again.

“Foreign online media are indispensable complements to independent Russian media,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “As they have the means that allow them to relatively escape the pressures to which Russian journalists are subject, they play a strategic role in providing access to news and information in Russia, especially online.”

Russia had already targeted Deutsche Welle before it invaded Ukraine on 24 February. It ordered the closure of Deutsche Welle’s Russian office and its addition to the “foreign agents” list on 3 February in reprisal for a refusal to grant the Russian state TV broadcaster RT (the former Russia Today) the right to broadcast in Germany. Deutsche Welle had not, however, abandoned its Russian-language service. It had simply moved to the Latvian capital, Riga, in order to continue operating from there.

Deutsche Welle is well-versed in circumventing Internet censorship to bring free and independent information to people living under authoritarian regimes. That is why Deutsche Welle has been working with censorship circumvention software Psiphon and also provides a so-called onion service, allowing users to anonymously visit the DW website via the Tor browser. An overview of how DW recommends users bypass censorship is available here

Russia is targeting foreign media as much as independent Russian media. Vladimir Putin’s objective is always the same – to bury the Russian population under the Kremlin’s propaganda so that he can wage his war in silence.

Collateral Freedom – mirror sites for all media outlets

RSF also brought the Caucasian Knot website back online on 16 March. This specialised independent media has been covering news from the Caucasus since 2001, paying particular attention to human rights and press freedom and carefully documenting violations of these basic rights in the region.

The Caucasian Knot was condemned to silence on the Russian Internet during another wave of censorship by the Russian prosecutor-general on 16 March. The sites of other media outlets that have been documenting the Ukraine war were also blocked, including Bellingcat, an independent collective of researchers and citizen-journalists based in Amsterdam.

RSF stands ready to create mirror sites for all censored media outlets that want to pursue their mission of providing news and information.

Russia is ranked 150th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.

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Mise à jour le 29.03.2022