[tor-talk] [New Report] No Access: LGBTIQ Website Censorship in Six Countries

Maria Xynou maria at openobservatory.org
Tue Aug 31 17:39:56 UTC 2021


Today, in collaboration with the *Citizen Lab* and *OutRight Action
International*, we co-published a new research report, "*No Access: LGBTIQ
Website Censorship in Six Countries*", which examines the blocking of
LGBTIQ websites in Indonesia, Malaysia, Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the
United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The report is available on each of our websites:


* Citizen Lab:

* OutRight Action International:

Download the full (203-page) report here:

*# About the report*

We joined forces with OutRight Action International and the Citizen Lab to
examine the *blocking of LGBTIQ websites in 6 countries: *Indonesia,
Malaysia, Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

We selected these countries because they are (a) known to serve block pages
(i.e., pages that website visitors may see when access is restricted),
which enable us to automatically confirm the blocking of LGBTIQ websites,
and (b) known to censor LGBTIQ related content, based on prior research.

We adopted a mixed methods research approach, combining *OONI network
measurement analysis with interviews and literature research*. The
timeframe that we selected for OONI data analysis was *June 1, 2016 to July
31, 2020*. To examine the impact of online LGBTIQ censorship, OutRight
Action International and the Citizen Lab interviewed LGBTIQ communities in
the six countries.

*# Summary of key findings*

*1) Variation in the blocking of internationally-relevant LGBTIQ websites
vs. locally-relevant ones.* All six countries blocked LGBTIQ websites that
are internationally-relevant and meant for an international audience (such
as www.grindr.com, www.advocate.com, and ilga.org). In Malaysia and
Indonesia, all local LGBTIQ websites tested (e.g., queerlapis.com and
suarakita.org), however, were accessible during our analysis period, and
therefore, it appears that both countries block internationally-relevant
LGBTIQ websites only. In contrast, Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE
blocked access to several local and regional LGBTIQ sites, in addition to
blocking internationally-relevant LGBTIQ sites.

*2) LGBTIQ websites on “culture and community” were blocked most often. *In
Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, and Saudi Arabia, the most frequently blocked
LGBTIQ websites were those that belong under the “Culture and Community”
category. These are websites that aim primarily to create a sense of
community among LGBTIQ individuals, as well as provide information about
art and culture. This is not the case in Russia, however, where LGBTIQ
websites under the “News Media" category instead presented the most
blocking, while in the UAE, most of the LGBTIQ websites found to be blocked
were no longer operational (categorized as “404 Not Found”).

*3) Variation in how block pages are served for LGBTIQ websites.* ISPs in
Indonesia and Malaysia serve block pages by means of DNS hijacking, whereas
Iranian ISPs serve block pages primarily by means of DNS injection. In
Russia, ISPs commonly make use of HTTP transparent proxies to serve
blockpages, but some Russian ISPs serve block pages by means of DNS
hijacking instead. In Saudi Arabia and the UAE, ISPs deliver block pages to
internet users through the use of censorship technologies.

*4) Detection of censorship technologies in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.* In
both Saudi Arabia and the UAE, ISPs serve block pages through the use of
WireFilter technology, which is a network filtering device made for the ISP
and commercial market, manufactured by Riyadh-based Sewar Technologies Ltd.
In the UAE, we also observed blocking using a tool manufactured by
Netsweeper, which is a Canadian company that sells internet filtering
products to ISPs around the world.

*5) Some block pages in Russia contained affiliate ads.* Unlike other
countries, some block pages in Russia contained affiliate ads, suggesting
the presence of financial incentives. We previously observed ads being
served as part of censorship efforts in Egypt (

*6) Iran blocks the highest number of LGBTIQ URLs in our test lists. *Out
of the six countries, the highest instance of LGBTIQ URL blocking was seen
in Iran, where 75 unique LGBTIQ URLs were detected as blocked. In Iran, we
also observed the blocking of www.outrightinternational.org, the website of
OutRight Action International, one of this report’s authors.

Further details and findings are available through our report:

We thank OONI Probe users for contributing measurements, supporting this

We also thank those who participated in interviews, sharing valuable
insights into the realities and impact of LGBTIQ website censorship in
their countries and regions.

Thanks for taking the time to read and share this study!

Kind regards,

~ OONI team.

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