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Belarusian website Charter 97 attacked, shut down

Charter 97 Editor-in-Chief Natalya Radina at CPJ's 2011 International Press Freedom Awards. (Muzaffar Suleymanov/CPJ)

It's not unusual for Charter 97, a Belarusian pro-opposition news website, to be disrupted online. CPJ has documented intimidations, threats, and arrests against its staff members, the murder of its founder, and denial-of-service attacks against the website.

On Thursday, the site endured a devastating online raid, Editor-in-Chief Natalya Radina told CPJ. Anonymous individuals used a password that Radina believed they got from malware used on an editor's personal computer. The saboteurs then logged on to the site's administrative section, deleted archives, and created a false news story about opposition presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov, she said. Sannikov was imprisoned after coming second in the December 2010 elections, and was sentenced to five years in prison in May.

Then again, this morning, Charter 97 was forced off-line after another DOS attack, Radina told CPJ.

Sites like Charter 97 do not have the resources to devote to digital forensics. Radina, winner of CPJ's 2011 International Press Freedom Award, works in exile in Lithuania. Like Sannikov, she faces charges of "organizing mass disorder" in her home country of Belarus.

For all of the accusations of criminality they make against journalists and political opponents, Belarusian authorities seem entirely uninterested in combating acts of computer crimes in at least some circumstances. While most of the disruption against Charter 97 took place behind the shield of anonymizing services, one of the attackers was using a Belarusian IP address. An assailant who not only sabotages Charter 97's archive but plants false information about an opposing presidential competitor would seem to be strongly connected to the Lukashenko regime.

Before the second attack this morning, Charter 97 was able to restore most of its archive, but its editors were not sure if some of the articles from December 2011 could be recovered, Radina told us.

Whatever the news from Charter 97 will be in 2012, it's clear that some in Belarus do not want their compatriots to read about it online. Radina remains defiant: "Take it from me that we shall live through today's attack too, no matter how serious it is. And we shall work even better."

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