Christian advocacy group hit by cyber attack after calling out Turkey's human rights violations

Representative image: The website of nonprofit organization In Defense of Christians was reportedly hacked after it took part in a summit that exposed human rights abuses in Turkey.Pixabay/TheDigitalArtist

A Christian advocacy group has claimed that it was hit by a cyber attack by someone who was believed to be acting "for or on behalf of the Turkish government" after it took part in a summit that exposed the human rights violations being committed by Turkey.

In Defense of Christians (IDC), an organization pushing for religious freedom in the Middle East, reported that its website went down on Thursday around 10:30 a.m., with a Turkish flag periodically appearing on the site for several hours.

Apart from the website, staff email accounts and private social media accounts were also compromised in the attack, according to IDC Executive Director Philippe Nassif.

The hacking reportedly took place after the advocacy group participated in a Capitol Hill briefing that focused on human rights violations in Turkey.

"The briefing specifically examined how President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his 'Neo-Ottoman' allies currently governing Turkey continue to deny centuries' old genocide, freedom of speech, and jail American citizens such as Pastor Brunson and other political dissidents, all while oppressing religious minorities," Nassif said in a press release.

Other groups that took part in the meeting were Amnesty International and Freedom House. Senators Chris Coons of Delaware and Thom Tillis of North Carolina also spoke at the summit.

The organization noted that the worst cyber attack took place around 12:30 p.m., when the website content had been replaced with a Turkish flag and a patriotic Turkish music started playing in the background.

The website was fully restored by 7 p.m. on Thursday, but Nassif noted that the attack also affected the group's email software.

Nassif recounted that there were "strange friend requests" from Facebook and LinkedIn prior to the Capitol Hill briefing. Some staff members also received email informing them that someone had attempted to login to their personal accounts.

Nassif clarified that the IDC still does not know whether the attack was carried out under the orders of Turkish leadership or if it was dispersed "among the many actors that they have that support their policies."

He said that the group has already asked its webhost to look into the trail that had been left by the hackers.

"IDC condemns this petty cyber-attack coming from a U.S. ally and NATO member. Unfortunately, this behavior reflects a pattern for the Turkish government as evidenced by the silencing of political dissidents inside Turkey and the illegal attacks on American citizens last year who were demonstrating against Erdogan in Washington, D.C.," the group stated in the news release.