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The APC European Internet Rights Project
Internet Censorship Case Study:
Radio B92 and OpenNet
the break-up of former Yugoslavia the majority of local mainstream
media decided to take a non-critical attitude towards negative
social phenomena such as hate speech, war clamouring, promotion
of ethnic intolerance, etc. Such media activity, without any
doubt, heavily influenced courses of bloody wars that raged
trough the Balkans during the past ten years.
From the very beginning of the conflicts in former Yugoslavia,
Belgrade's Radio B92 refused to conform to the trend of giving
blind support to the official policy of Serbian state officials.
This station was always providing its listeners with uncensored
news, no matter what positive or negative impact this news could
have on the course of the official policy. Instead of engaging
in sabre rattling, Radio B92 was calling for civility and reason;
instead of engaging in a campaign of xenophobia and spreading
of ethnic hatred, the radio was promoting multiculturalism and
Despite the dramatic developments that started rolling out at
a tremendous rate, the radio stayed on the same editorial course.
Soon it became one of the most popular radio stations in Belgrade
and many of its shows were directly broadcast or re-broadcast
on a number of local media in Serbia.
In many attempts to silence all forms of criticism of the official
politics, the regime of the Serbian (and later Yugoslav) president
Slobodan Milosevic tried numerous forms of open repression over
the independent media. During its history, Radio B92 had been
frequently harassed by the regime. The radio's broadcasting
frequency (92,5 MHz FM) was jammed on numerous occasions by
the secret police and the station was closed a couple of times
- during the massive pro-opposition civil and student protests
in the spring of 1991 and winter of 1996, shortly after the
beginning of NATO bombings in 1999, and for the last time at
the beginning of summer this year.
Exposed to this kind of pressure, the station was constantly
trying to find or build channels for distributing information
about local events to a domestic and international public. The
use of the Internet and satellite radio/TV broadcasts proved
to be the most effective ways of achieving those goals.
Internet division of Radio B92 started operating in 1992, using
a tiny link with the Yugoslav Academic Network for UUCP email
transfers only. In 1996, Radio B92 established a leased line
with XS4ALL, an ISP in Amsterdam, and Opennet.org was formed.
The link with XS4ALL was used since then for encrypted email
transfers, distribution of the radio's news bulletins to thousand
of email addresses worldwide. Apart from that, Opennet servers
hosted a number of Web sites and discussion forums for various
NGOs, anti-war campaigns, feminist groups, etc.
the radio had been closed for the second time, during the massive
civil and student protests in 1996, its program was broadcast
for the first time over the Internet in Real Audio format. Those
days, on the streets of Belgrade, one could hear for the first
time that the most information on what was happening in the
city was coming from the Internet, meaning by Real Audio stream
or email news bulletins of Radio B92.
However, despite this "Internet revolution in Belgrade"
(Wired 5.04), members of the ruling establishment did not reach
for some wider Internet censorship, counting on the fact that
at that time less than 100,000 people had some kind of Internet
access (and that number represented less than 1% of the total
Instead of enforcing a full-scale control over the use of Internet
services, the regime in Serbia decided to give its exponents
a carte blanche for causing minor isolated incidents. In the
case of Radio B92 a range of such incidents took place. They
who of the employees was using email for communication with
people abroad (1992);
to infiltrate people into Opennet who would forward certain
parts of employees emails to the secret police (1996);
pressure on Telecom to occasionally disconnect the encrypted
link between Opennet and XS4ALL, allowing members of the
secret police to intercept the re-establishment of the encrypted
link at the moment of encryption key exchange for later
use for email deciphering (1997);
to hijack Internet domains "b92.net" and "opennet.org"
common feature of these cases was that they were carried out
in a secret manner with a primary aim of spying on the activities
of Radio B92's employees. On the other hand, the biggest incidents
related to explicit censoring of Radio B92's Internet locations.
This occurred twice, at the end of 1998 and 1999.
the course of 1998, the Serbian government adopted new Law on
Universities. Following the law's provisions, government took
away from the academic community complete responsibility of
forming steering boards and appointing Deans of all schools
and universities in Serbia. During the process of "managing
things" at the universities, the government quickly installed
Deans who were in direct disagreement with free-minded professors.
One of the most respected schools in Serbia, the School of Electrical
Engineering at the Belgrade University (ETF), was severely hit
by these measures and more than 58 professors, docents, assistants
and researchers were fired as politically unsuitable.
At the end of 1998, a group of ETF students initiated a Web
site called "ETF Monkeys". The site carried critical
texts about the dramatic situation in the school, comic cartoons
featuring government-appointed Dean Vlada Teodosic and his deputy
Milos Laban, as well as a discussion forum. The site contents
were hosted at the Angelfire.com servers, located outside of
This student initiative got a wide promotion in the independent
media and quickly became a popular Web destination. Radio B92
also supported the "ETF Monkeys" and featured their
site in the radio's daily news bulletins and on its Web site.
Obviously very irritated by a sudden public focus on him and
his controversial activities at the university, ETF Dean Vlada
Teodosic decided to censor the sites of "ETF monkeys"
and Radio B92.
From the contents of an anonymous message sent to Radio B92
by an employee of the Belgrade University's Computer Center
(which administers the Yugoslav Academic Network), the chain
of events was reconstructed as follows:
At the beginning of December 1998 (most probably on Thursday,
December the 3rd) ETF Dean deputy Milos Laban phoned the Computer
Center of the Belgrade University (RCUB). He said that he was
acting in accord with a decision made by the Dean of ETF and
asked network engineer on duty to block certain Internet locations.
After the engineer explained that RCUB does not have any power
over those locations, Laban become furious and started threatening.
The engineer than called the manager of RCUB - Dr Zoran Jovanovic
- and informed him about the Laban's request. Mr. Jovanovic
called back Laban and, after brief consultations, issued an
order for putting requested filters on network traffic routers
It seems, by judging the known facts, that the Dean of ETF Vlada
Teodosic made a unilateral decision to introduce censorship,
without any prior consultations with rector of the Belgrade
University Jagos Puric. The formal decision in a written form
and signed by the Dean of ETF, had been delivered to RCUB only
after the filters had been put in place:
informing you hereby that the Internet has been misused once
again for insulting and underrating of certain members of
the ETF Board, by using a Web site on Angelfire.com server,
to which a link was provided on the Radio B92's Web site.
The Dean of ETF was presented on this site in a Nazi uniform
and with a Nazi salute, while Dr Milos Laban, a member of
the ETF Board, was presented as a monkey. We demand from you
to disable use of the Internet for distribution of such materials
in any form, including the form of email. That is your responsibility
according to Law on Public Information, as well as according
to the common rules of the international network that are
forbidding all forms of misuse."
the filters had been put on for certain IP addresses on network
routers, all forms of Internet communication had been cut for
those IP addresses. In this case it was a question of Angelfire.com
servers (which hosted the "ETF Monkeys" site), b92.net
(Radio B92's Internet location) and siicom.com (one of the mirror
sites for Radio B92's news archive).
By this act, Dean Vlada Teodosic denied access to all the contents
of the Angelfire.com servers (not only to the site of "ETF
Monkeys"!), as well as to all contents situated on Radio
B92's and Opennet's servers (daily news bulletins, Web sites
and discussion groups of various NGOs, independent media, civic
initiatives, etc). All students, professors and associates of
all the universities in Serbia (about 90 institutions), as well
as all the other users of the Yugoslav Academic Network, like
institutes and specialized research centers, were hit by this
The Internet traffic filters on the Academic Network were functioning
without any changes for more than a month. During the mid-January
1999, without any prior explanation, the ban was lifted for
access to the locations of the Radio B92. The filters that were
cutting access to the site of "ETF Monkeys" were not
removed at that moment and it is not known when all of them
were removed. The lack of this information was caused by a general
lack of public interest in Internet censorship issues, by the
removal of filters for Radio B92's servers (which further lessened
the media pressure on this affair) and, of course, by the start
of NATO bombing in the spring of 1999, which completely captured
the attention of Yugoslav citizens.
After the end of the war, the management of the ETF once again
introduced Internet traffic filters aimed at Radio B92 and Opennet
servers. This event took place by the beginning of November
1999, when Vlada Teodosic ordered a similar blockade, but this
time, taught by the previous experience, only for his school.
Even though this measure hit a much smaller group of Yugoslav
Academic Network users (only those who had access to the Internet
over the ETF's proxy server), the responsibility of the Dean
nor the illegality of this censorship act was not decreased
Measures Taken To Counter The Threat
following methods proved the most effective in countering this
kind of censorship: content mirroring, changing IP server numbers
frequently and using proxy servers for routing around the censorship.
As soon as the existence of filters was uncovered, the staff
of Radio B92 and "ETF Monkeys" issued a call for help
from the global Internet community. In the first few hours of
the blockade ten alternative locations (mirrors) had been established
for the two sites. The addresses of these alternative locations
came quickly to the public thanks to increased media interest
in the whole case.
As the introduction of filters completely disabled email communication,
the staff of Opennet immediately started changing the IP addresses
of its servers. Apart from that, news bulletins of Radio B92
were sent to the users of the Yugoslav Academic Network via
servers, whose IP addresses were not filtered.
One more effective way of routing around the censorship was
the use of public proxy servers for accessing the Internet.
In this concrete case, the users of the ETF network could get
access to the censored contents if they set-up their Internet
client programs to use addresses of any public proxy servers,
whose IP addresses were not filtered.
the methods outlined above, all censorship attempts based on
putting Internet traffic filters on the key network routers
of the Yugoslav Academic Network, were effectively stopped and
made completely meaningless.
affair with filters on the Yugoslav Academic Network emphasized
the need for servers for publishing dissident materials and
supporting dissident groups, outside of reach of a local repressive
regime. If the "ETF Monkeys" and Radio B92 had been
using only servers situated in Yugoslavia (Web servers, email
servers, listservs, etc), any need for introducing censorship
would not exist, as the local regime would manage to close the
servers by quick and effective actions.
The next important element against the censorship attempts was
to find ways to quickly inform the local and global public about
the existence of censorship. Early calls for help resulted,
in this case, in a huge response from individuals and institutions
around the world, who responded to the call by mirroring the
censored contents and thus making all censorship attempts meaningless.
The last, but not the least important aspect of the whole affair
was the ability of Internet users to speak anonymously. Many
governments have recently started questioning the ability of
their citizens to speak anonymously in cyberspace, defending
this by an alleged need to prevent different kinds of potential
misuses (this trend in Europe is particularly supported by the
current government in France). If the possibility of tracking
Internet users by the government or the ISPs was in place, giving
precise information about the acts of all persons involved,
information would not become so quickly available to the public.
A good deal of precious time needed for planning and launching
counter measures to the censorship would be irreversibly lost.
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