So who is silence golden for?

In Soviet times you talked of writing “for the drawer”.  There was no chance of being published if you didn’t write what they wanted to hear. And if you wrote what they seriously didn’t want to hear, you could end up imprisoned.  So people wrote in private and hoped for better times in the future.

The regime fell and those times arrived. Yet here I am in 2007 writing for human rights websites under siege for the fourth day now and trying gloomily to fathom the difference from the situation thirty years ago.

The onslaught began early Sunday evening, on the eve of International Human Rights Day on 10 December.   Since that time the websites of the Civic Network “Maidan”, the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group and the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union have been subjected to an intensive DDOS [Distributed Denial of Service] assault.  The aim is to block the sites through inundating the server with requests for information. The server can’t cope and the sites therefore don’t open.

Whose aim is that then? 

We’ve been asking that question ourselves.  There are grounds for believing that the attack has been organized from Russia and that those carrying it out are watching us and responding to the manoeuvres we make.  In short, this is no novice who’s got to page six of a “Hacking for Dummies” manual and feels the urge to experiment. Furthermore the cost of such an attack per day makes it most unlikely that this was commissioned by any individual with an axe to grind.  We would stress also that these large-scale and expensive attacks are undoubtedly planned in advance.

It was clear from the beginning that there were all too many parallels with other attacks on our colleagues, and it is highly improbable that this is mere coincidence.

Only just over a month ago there was an identical attack on the HRO website in Russia during which we tried to give whatever support we could and posted information about their struggle against the virtual assailants.  We must also mention some very hard-hitting texts in Russian and English about the illegal expulsion from Russia to Uzbekistan of an Uzbek Abdugani Kamaliyev (Tursinov).  This was in violation of Russian legislation and carried out more than 24 hours after the European Court of Human Rights had applied Rule 39 haling the expulsion. These texts were posted on two of the sites and  with one text literally placed on the sites 24 hours before the attack began.

  It seems possible we were meant to draw certain conclusions about the likely consequences if we continued writing what they didn’t “want to hear”.

  We have drawn conclusions, although not perhaps those desired.  We quite simply have no choice but to continue.  In the current political climate it is absolutely vital that we continue being able to report what the media unfortunately ignores.

If we don’t, who will?

That question is taken from a letter sent over the last few days to very many colleagues, journalists and representatives of different organizations.  We wrote to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, various UN offices in Ukraine, embassies, international NGOs, media outlets.  If this was, as we feared, part of a concentrated assault on human rights organizations reporting on events in post-Soviet countries, it was imperative that we shouted as loudly as possible and that we received at least crucial help in passing on information. 

It is a bitter irony that the article on Saturday was specifically about our failure to attract the attention of the media to the threatened expulsion of Abdugani Kamaliyev. It was the media after all who could have asked certain inconvenient questions in high places and perhaps prevented the expulsion.

We are extremely grateful to the HRO team in Russia for their wonderful support and for enabling us to post information about the attack.

There have however been very few responses to our letters.  We would in no way wish to criticize anybody.  We do understand that everybody has urgent tasks and that it’s not possible to respond to all appeals.

However, we would stress that silence plays into the hands of those who have absolute contempt for human rights and human dignity.  We are endeavouring not to be silent, but those fighting us have power and opportunities for pursuing their ends.

Our voices will continue to sound the alarm when human rights are being violated, but if we cannot hope for a receptive ear and help in passing on information, we will be almost powerless. 

If that indeed is what those who ordered this attack are hoping to achieve, please help us to ensure that they fail.  It will be our shared victory.

Halya Coynash

Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group

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