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Cyber attacks plague Antiguan investigative news site

The International Press Institute (IPI) is deeply alarmed to hear that the editors of the Antiguan investigative news site Caribarena have left Antigua and Barbuda reportedly due to fear for their family's safety.

The editors, a husband and wife, told IPI that they and their children had been threatened and harassed and their home vandalised following the publication of articles alleging corruption among high-ranking Antiguan politicians and public figures.

On one occasion, the editors' daughter was allegedly told by a stranger that her father would be "sent back to Israel in a body bag." Caribarena's editors are Israeli by birth and have now returned to Israel. "We left our business in Antigua, including our printery," they explained to IPI.

Moreover, a series of alleged cyberattacks that began on July 19th have shut down Caribarena's website indefinitely. In a statement addressed to its readers, Caribarena states that the attacks originated in "multiple nations, including Antigua and Barbuda, Ukraine, Colombia, Peru, Indonesia, and many others" and have involved sending enormous amounts of traffic to overwhelm and disable the site.

IPI visited Antigua and Barbuda in April and met with a number of media houses, including Caribarena, as part of its campaign to abolish criminal defamation in the country. On July 29th, IPI released a report on its visit, which highlighted claims that Caribarena was being targeted for its investigative reporting.

"IPI is deeply disturbed by the suggestion that Caribarena's editors have been forced to abandon their lives and their business in Antigua due out of fear for their safety," IPI Director of Communications & Public Relations Anthony Mills said. "No journalist should feel threatened for doing his or her job."

"We remind the Antiguan government that it is responsible for the safety of all journalists working within its borders, and we would urge the government to officially and publicly reject all acts of intimidation directed against any media house," Mills added.

Caribarena believes that the attacks against it are related to its reporting on suspected irregularities in an agreement between the Antiguan government and the Japanese-owned IHI debt settlement company. According to the Antigua Observer, one of the country's leading dailies, "the IHI investigation dates back to the 1990s, when it is alleged millions of dollars were funnelled into the pockets of a number of individuals – masked as loan repayment – for the desalination plant constructed here with the loan from IHI." Antiguan prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation into the IHI affair.

One of the subjects of Caribarena's reporting, opposition MP and former minister of public works Asot Michael (Antigua Labour Party), has filed several civil libel suits against the site. In June, a judge issued a default judgment in favour of Michael after Caribarena's editors did not appear in court to offer a defence, having already left the country.

In March, a few months after the site began reporting on the IHI scandal, a Caribarena journalist allegedly was shot at while on assignment at a cricket match. While there is no indication that the alleged events are related, Caribarena's editors told IPI that police had not followed up on a claim filed by the reporter, leaving the latter "afraid" and "unwilling to speak" about the incident further.

Caribarena was founded in late 2007 as a web-only news medium, though it later began print operations, which were suspended earlier this year.

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