No Access: LGBTIQ Website Censorship in Six Countries

Access to information and the ability to connect virtually and physically can potentially support and empower communities, advance human rights organizing, and even save lives. For marginalized populations, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer (LGBTIQ) people, online spaces are especially critical for safely identifying information and resources, connecting with others in their community, and engaging in human rights advocacy and movement-building.

In short, the ability to connect and communicate virtually is a lifeline for many LGBTIQ people around the world.

At the same time, state-sponsored online censorship is on the rise globally, targeting human rights defenders, journalists and the media, and political activists, among others. Further, the ever-advancing nature of digital technology means that online censorship, along with efforts to circumvent it, are dynamic, leading to a persistent game of leapfrog between governments and users, each trying to stay ahead of the other.

OutRight Action International, the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, and the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) collaborated to investigate the censorship of LGBTIQ websites and its impact on LGBTIQ individuals and communities. This report presents six case studies featuring Indonesia, Malaysia, Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The objective of the research was to document which LGBTIQ websites are blocked in each of the six selected countries, to determine how local Internet Service Providers (ISPs) implement blocking, and to investigate how website censorship impacts LGBTIQ communities and their movements to secure justice and equality.

The overarching findings of the report are:

  • Censorship of LGBTIQ website content is prevalent in all six countries looked at in this 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.

 

Download the report here.

Download the annotate bibliography here.

Download the full, technical report here.