29.01.2023

Independent Russian News Site’s Hackers Urge Readers to Boycott Election

Independent Russian news website The Bell said it was hacked after its newsletter subscribers received an email that urged them to boycott the country’s upcoming parliamentary elections.

“Boycotting the State Duma elections will force the country’s leadership to pay attention to the problems of the people, and will open up an opportunity for building a democratic society,” read the newsletters that The Bell’s subscribers received Thursday morning.

The newsletter also urged subscribers to stage solo pickets on Sept. 19 to demand honest elections involving opposition candidates.

Shortly after the email was sent, The Bell said it had been hacked and issued an apology on Twitter.

“We were hacked again. Our subscribers have just received a newsletter with a strange provocative text that we did not write or send,” The Bell tweeted from its Russian-language account, adding that it was looking into what happened.

Critics of the Kremlin accuse it of coordinating a crackdown on Russia’s remaining opposition forces and independent media ahead of the Sept. 17-19 election that will see the ruling, pro-Kremlin United Russia battle historic unpopularity.

Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and his supporters are promoting a “Smart Voting” strategy that urges voters to rally behind the candidate most likely to defeat the United Russia incumbent.

Independent Russian Journalist, Elections Expert Reports Threats

An independent Russian journalist and elections expert has reported receiving threats toward his family and surveillance over his article about a regional elections official seeking re-election to the State Duma this September.

Vasily Weissenberg, an expert at the independent Golos election monitor, had published an article about Andrei Gibert, the head of the Yamal-Nenets autonomous district’s electoral commission. The article alleges that Gibert’s salary is several times higher than that of fellow regional election officials and surpasses that of the Yamal-Nenets governor.

Weissenberg wrote on Facebook on Thursday that an unknown man had called his wife, demanding the article be taken down immediately and implying that their son could be harmed: “I don’t want Misha to fall off the scooter next time. Do you understand me?”

In an interview with the independent Dozhd broadcaster, Weissenberg said he had only taken his son to kindergarten with a scooter for the first time that day.

He added that he thinks someone has been watching his family.

Weissenberg told Dozhd he thinks the threat may have been an attempt to sabotage Gilbert’s re-election campaign in the fall, as his article didn’t reveal any new information.

“This is already such an intra-elite game that my report just became a trigger for them. They decided that if they intimidate me, then I will most likely write about this, and this will hit Andrei Gibert and maybe he won’t be re-elected,” Weissenberg said.

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