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Cuban blogger's news site hacked after going live

Cuba Blogger Newspaper-1.jpg

April 1, 2013: In this file photo, Cuba’s best-known blogger Yoani Sanchez speaks at the Freedom Tower of Miami Dade College, in Miami, Florida. (AP)The Associated Press

A general-interest news website published by Cuba's best-known blogger has been hacked by pro-government bloggers shortly after going live.

A little more than an hour after its launch, the site 14ymedio.com was hijacked and readers inside Cuba were directed to a page dedicated to scathing criticism of blogger Yoani Sanchez by well-known pro-government writers.

Neither Sanchez nor Iroel Sanchez, the writer featured heavily on the critical site, immediately responded to calls or emails from the Associated Press. The Cuba government has declined comment.

The site is Cuba's first major independent general-interest news outlet in five decades.  

Before being hacked, 14ymedio.com offered feature and news reporting, opinion, sports and even hair and beauty tips that Sanchez hoped would challenge the government monopoly on information.

The site was seen as testing both government tolerance for dissent and Sanchez's ability to parlay her international blogging success into a wider domestic audience.

Sanchez and her husband, Reinaldo Escobar, said they have been working for months with a staff of nine and contributors from around the island to produce a regularly updated website and a weekly PDF of a newspaper dedicated to providing Cubans with essential information -- rather than attacking the government. The PDF version can easily be distributed by memory stick, one of the main ways Cubans share documents and information.

Escobar, who will be the editor-in-chief, told the AP the news site will not have a print version and while it does not have an official license to operate, the staff will seek to avoid legal trouble by avoiding any aspect of distribution beyond publishing online. Cuban law contains a number of prohibitions against the distribution of mass media to undermine values including "social order, international solidarity or the socialist state." In addition, newspaper publishing is not on a list of approved private businesses, so there is no way for Sanchez and Escobar to get a license to operate and hire staff.

Sanchez has gained global renown and a string of foreign awards for her blog "Generation Y," which offers scathing criticism of Cuba's communist government. She has more than 600,000 followers on Twitter, but she is far less well-known inside Cuba, where Internet access is expensive and unavailable in virtually all homes and few businesses.

The paper's name, "14ymedio," is a play on the year of the paper's founding and the Spanish word for media. Sanchez described the publication on her blog, which she hopes "will help and accompany the necessary change that will take place in our country ... a space to tell Cuba's story from inside Cuba."

While columnists will be free to express dissident opinions, and Sanchez's blog will be incorporated into the new publication, much of the paper will be made up of the stuff of ordinary news sites, including a cooking section and entertainment listings and reviews, Escobar said.

News stories will avoid charged terms like "regime" or "dictatorship," referring to the government as simply "the government," and President Raul Castro as "head of state" or "President Gen. Raul Castro," he said.

Dissidents already produce a handful of news sites from inside Cuba, and the Catholic Church prints two major magazines. But none are seen as true competition for Cuba's three widely distributed state-run newspapers or its official television or radio stations.

The government once blocked the website for Sanchez's blog, but amid a series of economic reforms it has taken a softer line against many of its detractors in recent years, freeing dozens of dissidents serving long jail terms and allowing government opponents to travel outside the country along with other Cubans by eliminating the need for a special travel permit.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.