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Authorities "at war" with bloggers in Chelyabinsk region

(GDF/IFEX) - The web blogs of critics of authorities in the region of Chelyabinsk have been hacked and cyber-attacked by the score in recent weeks in an apparent bid to stem the spread of negative information on the Internet about regional authorities' performance.

The e-mail account of Yulia Pozdeyeva, a journalist well-known for her investigative reporting on misappropriation of government funds and incompetence by regional administration officials, has been hacked. Pozdeyeva has published such stories as the purchase by the governor's office of urinals equipped with user detectors and the hiring of a security team for the governor at double the cost of the security services of two major sports complexes. She has also reported on extravagant receptions for foreign VIPs, including 45 million rubles (approx. US$1.5 million) spent on souvenirs, as well as the purchase of a personal helicopter for Governor Mikhail Yurevich.

Pozdeyeva described in her blog how hackers attacked her blog, her e-mail account, and even a "half-abandoned profile on Odnoklassniki.ru." She believes they were searching for correspondence with the U.S. State Department regarding foreign grants.

In a separate case, another blogger, Marina Belova, from the city of Zlatoust, Chelyabinsk Region, also reported that her blog, Sadpanther, was blocked after she posted a story about hired commentators or "trolls" browsing the Internet from the regional administration's IP address. Belova is a committed opposition activist who has also reported on her blog about the purchase of a Bentley by the Zlatoust mayor and a Mercedes by the head of the municipal sports committee at around the same time. Neither of the two officials nor their relatives were known to engage in any business in Zlatoust which would allow for such purchases.

Many Chalyabinsk netizens keep mirror versions of their blogs on other servers and the news reports they post are shared on the Internet at viral speeds.

Blame for the cyber-attacks is being pinned on the Committee against Bloggers, a team set up by the governor's office about six months ago which is overseen by the office's Centre for Operative Analysis and Forecasting. The structure did not exist under the previous governor, Pyotr Sumin.

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