WASHINGTON – Radio Free Asia (RFA), in partnership with the Open Technology Fund (OTF), is hosting dedicated .onion addresses for its Mandarin and Cantonese Services’ websites, in addition to its English-language site. These sites enhance the ability of audiences in restricted media environments, including mainland China, to securely access RFA’s up-to-date, accurate reports and content on the coronavirus pandemic, among other topics deemed sensitive to censors.
“Radio Free Asia’s mission is to inform audiences in China about critical developments and topics that are censored in state media,” said Bay Fang, RFA’s President. “With the deadly Covid-19 pandemic and the abuse of information about it via China’s official media, this responsibility for our organization takes on an even greater urgency. These secure websites will help to protect and empower our audiences, whether they are in mainland China, where RFA’s online content is blocked, or in Hong Kong where the growing threat of surveillance can have a chilling effect on freedom of information.”
“RFA’s decision to begin hosting dedicated Tor .onion sites will only make it easier for audiences in Asia to get around censors and access news and information relevant to their everyday lives,” said Sarah Aoun, Director of Technology at OTF. “RFA continues to leverage the power of technology in order to further fulfill its mission of bringing free press to closed societies.”
In hosting .onion websites, RFA joins other news organizations such as the BBC and Deutsche Welle in making its content available on this secure network. In the months since the coronavirus outbreak, RFA Mandarin has seen a boost in visits to its website, along with sharp increases in the number of user profiles following the service’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Concerns about blocking by Chinese authorities, who tightly control the narrative around major news developments, were a significant factor in the decision to better ensure access to RFA’s timely reports. These include RFA’s recent investigation into the official statistics of Wuhan's coronavirus fatalities, as well as coverage of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, and the crackdown on ethnic minorities such as Uyghurs and Tibetans, among other restricted issues. China’s vast filtering and censorship of its internet and social media platforms has earned it the dubious distinction of being “the world’s worst abuser of internet freedom,” according to Freedom House.
RFA’s .onion websites are:
Users who download the Firefox-based Tor browser and use the appropriate web addresses will be able to obfuscate their identity and the websites they are attempting to access. (These addresses are not accessible when using non-Tor browsers.) In order to protect users’ privacy, Tor routes internet traffic through multiple servers, encrypting it at each step. The Tor Project receives funding from a number of organizations, including OTF, which became an independent nonprofit organization in 2019 after operating as an RFA program for seven years. (RFA and OTF are both funded through an annual grant from the U.S. Agency for Global Media.)