Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has announced that it has unblocked access to more than 80 media websites in 24 countries around the world to mark the World Day Against Cyber Censorship on March 12, 2023.
The Paris-based World Press Freedom Watchdog also states that a number of Russian media outlets have regained access, and a "battle" is underway with China to bring blocked news sites back online.
"Launched in 2015 to combat online media censorship, RSF’s Operation Collateral Freedom is currently enabling access to more than 80 media sites in countries where they were censored," RSF said in a statement.
"The operation is now at work in 24 countries around the world, including Russia, Belarus, China, Myanmar and several African countries including Togo and Mali," the press freedom watchdog added.
"Thanks to Operation Collateral Freedom’s creation of mirror sites that are hosted on servers located outside the jurisdiction of press freedom predators, national and international media have been able to circumvent arbitrary blocking measures. Almost half of the more than 80 sites have been put back online in the past year," it continued.
“Operation Collateral Freedom has just advanced to a new stage and is unfortunately now having to assist a growing number of media outlets," Christophe Deloire, RSF secretary-general.
"Access to online information is worsening everywhere in the world, especially in authoritarian countries, led by Russia and China. The creation of mirror sites completes the range of solutions provided by RSF for accessing online information and enabling media outlets to quickly reconnect with their public,” he added.
RSF statement said that "since launching its invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin has repeatedly used Roskomnadzor, the Russian telecoms regulator, to block Russian and foreign news sites providing independent, reliable and quality news reporting."
One of RSF's initiatives, "Operation Collateral Freedom", has now unblocked at least 17 Russian media outlets, including "Holod", an independent news platform, and "Kavkaz Uzel", a site that "specialises in covering the Caucasus".
RSF said it also embarked on a major operation in early 2023 to bypass China's 'Great Firewall' and unblock many Chinese news and information websites that had been banned from the country's internet.
"A first wave of websites has already been unblocked. Nine sites specializing in reporting human rights abuses, including "Civil Rights & Livelihood Watch", "Weiquanwang" and the Tibetan exile media outlet, "Tibet Post International", are back online," it further added.
RSF has previously issued a strong condemnation of China, saying that the Chinese government is trying to keep Tibet excluded from international media by tightening its "grip" on the people of Tibet, which is "isolating Tibet even more from the outside world."
China "is the world's largest prison for journalists, and its regime conducts a campaign of repression against journalism and the right to information worldwide," said the press freedom watchdog.
"In the eyes of the regime, the media’s function is to be the party’s mouthpiece and to impart state propaganda. Independent journalists and bloggers who dare to report “sensitive” information are often placed under surveillance, harassed, detained, and in some cases tortured," the statement continued.
RSF said that "President Xi Jinping, in power since 2013, has restored a media culture worthy of the Maoist era, in which freely accessing information has become a crime and to provide information an even greater crime."
Putting China among the worst nations in the world, RSF ranked China 175th out of 180 in its 2022 "World Press Freedom Index" and is "the world's largest captor of journalists" with more than a hundred reporters and news sources detained, including in Tibet, East Turkestan and Hong Kong.