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United Kingdom12 October 2004

Home Secretary David Blunkett challenged over Indymedia website closures

Reporters Without Borders has condemned the seizure of UK-based webservers, used by some 20 Indymedia websites and has written to Home Secretary David Blunkett, copied to his US, Italian and Swiss counterparts, seeking an explanation for the confiscations.

The servers were seized from the US-owned web hosting company Rackspace operating in the UK on 7 October 2004 at the request of the US Justice Department, which apparently acted at the prompting of Italian and Swiss authorities.

Indymedia is an international media network that operates without central editorial control and on which users can freely post their messages.

Reporters Without Borders, which condemned the seizures and called for the equipment to be returned, said in its letter to Mr Blunkett: "This intervention is the responsibility of the British authorities because it relates to a hosting company operating on their territory. Closure of websites is a serious step, the reasons for which should definitely be made public".

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) apparently requested the seizures of the Texan-based Rackspace that hosts Indymedia websites in the United States and in the UK. The company complied with the 7 October court order, shutting down around 20 Indymedia sites including those in France, Yugoslavia, Belgium, Italy, Brazil, Portugal and the UK.

Ed Gibson, legal officer at the US Embassy in London, strongly denied to Reporters Without Borders on 8 October tbat the US federal police had played any part. However, according to a statement by an FBI spokesman to Agence France-Presse (AFP), the bureau did order the seizure of the servers but "on behalf of another country". Swiss and Italian authorities were apparently behind the decision, even though they had made no official statement on the subject.

The US Justice Department issued the seizure order under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) that allows far-reaching police co-operation in the fields of international terrorism, kidnapping and money-laundering.

The Swiss authorities reportedly sought US intervention after some Indymedia sites posted photographs of two Geneva police officers charged with identifying rioters who took part in demonstrations against the G8 summit. The alternative media was apparently also being targeted by the prosecutor’s office in Bologna, Italy, since messages were posted in November 2003 fiercely criticising Italian military involvement in Iraq.

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