Updated Anonymous hacktivists have withdrawn threats to expose the identities of boys accused of gang raping a 17-year-old girl before her death. But rogue Anons may defy the decision and publish the information anyway.
Rehtaeh Parsons, from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada, was allegedly sexually assaulted while drunk by four lads in November 2011. Sickeningly, one of the gang took photos of the attack, it is claimed.
These images were distributed, it is alleged, and she was tormented by bullies as a result. She reported the rape several days after she said it took place. But Canadian prosecutors decided not to proceed with the case a year later after deciding there was "insufficient evidence".
Parsons' mental well-being never fully recovered even after her family moved home, and she suffered from mood swings. She tried to hang herself in her locked family bathroom on 4 April this year, and severely hurt herself before her parents could break down the door. Her life support was switched off days later.
Her family, who have set up a tribute page on Facebook, maintain she never intended to kill herself.
Parsons' death has provoked questions about the Canadian justice system. Nova Scotia’s Justice Department is reviewing the handling of the case by The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, The Canadian Press reports.
People within the hacking collective Anonymous piled further pressure on these deliberations by threatening to release the names of the suspects unless the authorities act. Although some members of the group have since U-turned on threats to name and shame the suspects, at the request of the family, other Anons have vowed to press on with the threat.
The hacktivists, acting under the hashtag OpJustice4Rehtaeh, denied suggestions they were vigilantes in a statement supplied to Salon:
Our demands are simple: We want the [Nova Scotia Royal Canadian Mounted Police] to take immediate legal action against the individuals in question. We encourage you to act fast. If we were able to locate these boys within 2 hours, it will not be long before someone else finds them.
We do not approve of vigilante justice as the media claims. That would mean we approve of violent actions against these [alleged] rapists at the hands of an unruly mob. What we want is justice. And that’s your job. So do it.
The names of the [alleged] rapists will be kept until it is apparent you have no intention of providing justice to Retaeh’s family. Please be aware that there are other groups of Anons also attempting to uncover this information and they may not to wish to wait at all. Better act fast.
Be aware that we will be organizing large demonstrations outside of your headquarters. The rapists will be held accountable for their actions. You will be held accountable for your failure to act.
Elsewhere more than 115,000 Canadians have put their names down on a petition calling for Nova Scotia's justice minister to open an independent inquiry into the police investigation in the case.
Rehtaeh Parsons' funeral is due to take place on Saturday, 13 April. ®
Updated to add
Since the publication of this article, Canadian police decided to reopen the Parsons case following the receipt of "new information". "The investigators are going to look at that in its entirety, So we're back in business and we're going to continue to move forward and see where that information leads us," said RCMP Cpl Scott MacRae.