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The English website of The Irrawaddy was brought down on Thursday by activists calling themselves the Blink Hacker Group.
The hackers appeared to target the independent Burmese news group on the grounds that The Irrawaddy is comprised of “supporters of jihad and radical Muslims”.
The news website, which covers Burma and Southeast Asia, recently ran an article covering Burma’s controversial nationalist monk Wirathu, who last week visited likeminded Buddhist organisations in Sri Lanka.
The Irrawaddy’s editor-in chief Aung Zaw said on Thursday that following the media group’s reportage of Wirathu’s visit to Sri Lanka their Facebook sites “received hundreds of hate mail and very abusive messages within hours”.
“It shows that they are working as a team,” he said.
Aung Zaw said that The Irrawaddy had already tightened its internet security following crippling denial of service attacks by hackers in 2008. However, this time they believe their server was penetrated.
“It is criminal, but they are cowards,” he said.
In addition to hacking the newspaper’s server, The Irrawaddy said that someone called their office in Rangoon two days ago and threatened reporters in connection with the Wirathu article, saying that they would raze or bomb the news group’s office.
The threats came just days after The Irrawaddy founder Aung Zaw was presented with a 2014 International Press Freedom Award by the Committee to Protect Journalists.
“We are happy to receive this award,” he told DVB on Thursday. “This award is not for me but for my committed team members and those who defend press freedom and promote independent media. This award belongs to them all, including the late U Win Tin and several veteran journalists who were unjustly locked up in prisons. This award is a reminder to those who continue to muzzle the press and insist on running a propaganda machine while embarking on a farcical reform process and launching a ‘public media service’—all [of which is] nonsense.”
Aung Zaw confirmed that the cyber-attack began immediately after his journalism award was announced.
“We could see a steady stream of incoming abusive messages in the hundreds over the last four or five days – and then an attack!” he said.
As of Thursday afternoon, the problem had been solved and the news site resumed online.