How online censors muzzle queer voices in Russia, Middle East, Indonesia, Malaysia

Online censorship, which silences LGBTIQ voices in many nations, is especially repressive in  Indonesia, Malaysia, Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). A new report documents how those nations muzzle LGBTIQ people, prevent them people from accessing important information, and obstruct efforts to protect their human rights.

Cover of the report “LGBTIQ Website Censorship in Six Countries”. (Click the image to download a short version of the report.)

Working together, OutRight Action International, the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, and the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) conducted detailed technical and policy examinations of each country.

Among their findings:

  • Censorship of LGBTIQ website content is prevalent in all six countries in the study.
  • Methods of censorship are relatively transparent in all six countries.
  • LGBTIQ website censorship correlates to a hostile situation for LGBTIQ people more broadly.
  • In all six countries, LGBTIQ-related content is equated to pornography and therefore subject to laws outlawing such content.
  • There are differences in blocking of local and international websites.
  • In Iran, Russia and Saudi Arabia users LGBTIQ users are at risk of online entrapment by local authorities using LGBTIQ websites and dating sites to identify, arrest, intimidate or extort LGBTIQ people.
  • Censorship leads to self-censorship, especially where punitive measures are a possibility.
  • The highest blocking consistency was found in Saudi Arabia, where most LGBTIQ URLs (web addresses) were found blocked more than 75% of the times tested.
  • The highest number of LGBTIQ URLs found blocked was in Iran.
  • Russia had the highest number of networks that block LGBTIQ URLs.

Maria Sjödin, deputy executive director of OutRight Action International, stated:

“For so many LGBTIQ people around the world, the ability to connect online is the only opportunity to find community and access life-saving information. Censorship cuts off an important lifeline, further demonizes the LGBTIQ community, and obstructs the work of LGBTIQ organizations.”

She added:

“Such censorship, typically justified by discriminatory or arbitrarily applied laws, is in violation of international standards of freedom of expression and access to information. As long as states continue to censor LGBTIQ websites, the international community, private sector actors and civil society must do what they can to protect these fundamental rights.”

Many LGBTQ rights activists don’t allow themselves to be muzzled by homophobic censors.

The report notes that “LGBTIQ activists and movements continue to press forward, risking harassment, fines, and imprisonment, to find ways to circumvent censorship and continue their activism.”

For example, Khalid Abdel-Hadi, editor of My.Kali, an online pan-Arab LGBTIQ magazine, states:

“It is like an unspoken conversation between us and governments—we find a way because the Internet is so creative in distributing information. They can block, and we can find another medium…our goal is to make information as reachable as possible—the Internet is so big, so vast. We can find options.”

A 76-page version of the report, titled “No Access: LGBTIQ Website Censorship in Six Countries”, is available for download.

For more information, readers can download a 42-page annotated bibliography and the full 203-page report.

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Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

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