French news site Rue89 suffers cyberattacks, staffers harassed

Brussels, August 13, 2014–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns repeated cyberattacks on Paris-based news website Rue89 and the harassment of members of its staff and their families since the site published a profile of an Internet hacker last month.

Rue89 on July 29 published a profile by Benoit Le Corre of a self-described “militant Zionist” hacker, identified as a French national named Gregory Chelli, who says he is based in the Israeli city of Ashdod. The article described how the hacker had attacked and disabled websites of associations and personalities he judged hostile to Israel. It said a French court had condemned Chelli and issued a suspended sentence for an attack against a pro-Palestinian Paris bookstore in 2009.

Last week, Rue89 suffered waves of denial-of-service (DOS) attacks, its director, Pierre Haski, wrote in an editorial. “In his different social media accounts, the hacker has claimed responsibility for the attacks probably in the belief that his presence in Ashdod would grant him impunity,” Haski wrote.

Rue89, Haski, Le Corre, and his family have all filed complaints with the French public prosecutor’s office.

According to Rue89, Chelli, who uses the pseudonym Ulcan, pretended to be a police officer, calling Le Corre’s parents and telling them that their son was dead. On August 8, according to Haski’s complaint to the prosecutor, the hacker published online Haski’s confidential police file. Pretending to be Haski, he called the police and told them he had killed his wife and was in his house armed with a weapon and ready to shoot at the police.

“We call on French and Israeli authorities to launch a thorough investigation into these attacks on Rue89 and to ensure its staff members’ safety,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said from New York. “Such intimidation tactics against journalists and their families must not be tolerated, lest they lead the media to self-censor.”

The editors-in-chief of Le Monde and Le Nouvel Observateur press group, one of the most influential in France, issued a statement denouncing the cyberattacks and harassment as “unspeakable methods which very seriously imperil the freedom of information” and pledging not to “surrender to intimidation, blackmail, or threats.”