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Journalists whose e-mail boxes were hacked and published, consider this a form of pressure of the authorities

28.10.2013, 10:07

Ukrainian journalists, whose e-mail boxes were hacked and private correspondence was published, are assured that this is done with knowledge of the authorities, and link this to the topics of their journalist investigations. Experts consider this a targeted campaign to neutralize the opponents of the authorities, and the opposition representatives see in these violations the style of Ukrainian law-enforcement agencies. In the Ministry of Internal Affairs, on the contrary, they say that they protect media workers from the cyber attacks, Radio Freedom informs.

The executive director of the Institute of Media Law Oksana Romaniuk recently received a letter from one of the sites that publishes discrediting materials against the opposition and journalists – she was proposed to read her own correspondence on that site. As it turned out, someone obtained the content of Oksana Romaniuk’s e-mail box and home computer, and, as she said, used some of this information to write defamatory articles about her.

Oksana filed a complaint to the police, but the Ministry of Internal Affairs started criminal proceeding based on the article «forcible assertion of right», the punishment under which is minimal. 

«This is an element of a wide-scale campaign to pressure civil activists and investigating journalists. This pressure is clearly associated with the government. The goal is to shut down the journalists, not to let them inform the voters about the real state of affairs in Ukraine. The pressure started since September, when they began sending to the journalists malware links», said Oksana Romakiuk.

Her guess is that the attacks against the journalists are conducted by a professional team of hackers who receive considerable funding and are not afraid of being brought to criminal responsibility. It is not unlikely, she says, that these people are related to law-enforcement agencies.

Among those, whose e-mail boxes were hacked, are Ukrainska Pravda journalists Sergiy Leshchenko and Mustafa Nayem. In particular, Nayem in his comments for Radio Freedom provides evidence of the fact that the e-mail boxes are being attacked upon the order from authorities. Yet, he believes these attacks are non-professional and not really efficient.

«Someone showed me the files from my electronic account and e-mail – people who work in governmental structures. I will not tell you who they are, because, as it seems to me, in the stand between the government and the journalists they are on our side. The main thing: this is not something for the public. This is «a fight for those in the know», an attempt to show what authorities can do, how they can mar a journalist’s reputation. Also, it’s a kind of dialogue between the government and the journalists, Mustafa Nayem says. – For instance, a reporter prepares publications about Mezhyhirya, about corruption schemes of the Yanukovich family. So what is the government’s answer? They show something like the journalist has cheats on his wife with a mistress or show that he is receiving «wrong» grants. It is not information about crimes or appropriation of public funds. Just a petty revenge».  

Radio Freedom addressed the Security Service of Ukraine with a question: does it check the fact of hacking the journalists’ e-mails, and are SSU officials related to the cybernetic attacks? In the press service they said that it is the Ministry of Internal Affairs that performs the investigation for the most part, and they promised a more detailed response in several days, as an answer to the official request of Radio Freedom.  

The speaker for the Ministry of Internal Affairs Sergiy Burlakov, instead, refused to comment the victims’ assumptions that law-enforcement agencies are somehow related to the attack. Instead, he declared that law-enforcement agencies investigate such cases – but only after a complaint about such crime.

«The police start responding from the moment of address to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. If there is a complaint, we have the basis to start an investigation of the incident. We have specialists who deal with cybernetic space safety, and in the beginning of the year we conducted a seminar for the journalists on protection of personal data on their personal PCs and in the net», Sergiy Burlakov said.  

The former head of Kyiv police, now people’s deputy from «Batkivshchyna», Vitaliy Yarema, says that obtaining journalists’ personal data can be of interest only for the people currently in power, because criminals or businessmen are not interested in this.

«It is not unlikely that special services have some relation to this matter. At that, the attacks are against the e-mails of journalists, and of people’s deputies, too: I have heard this, in particular, from the deputies of our faction Yuriy Stets and Oleksander Turchinov. They publish information about the private life of the very journalists who publish something negative about the authorities. Online media are developing rapidly, and five years ago, when I worked in the police, not all public persons had their own e-mails. Yet I cannot recall any cases of police hacking the e-mails of the representatives of mass media. Indeed, we used the data from the network to counter the criminals. But touching journalists was absolutely forbidden», explained Vitaliy Yarema to Radio Freedom.

The experts think that the tendency of hacking e-mail and computers of journalists and opponents of the authorities is something unprecedented in Europe. Some of the specialists say that this form of fighting against nonconformists emerged, as one of the reasons, due to the fact that Ukrainian public activists and journalists are consolidated, and this scares the current authorities. Some international organizations, in particular, «Freedom House» and «Reporters without borders», already expressed their concern about the regular cyber attacks against journalists in Ukraine.

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