Bristol's alternative news network Indymedia has been forced offline after police launched an investigation into an article that appeared to encourage vandalism.

Following a tip-off from an Indymedia reader, police raided a residential address on Monday seizing IT equipment and the server that hosts the group's site.

During the raid a Bristol Indymedia volunteer was arrested on a charge of incitement to criminal damage. The charge related to an article published on 17 June in which an anonymous person claimed to have dropped concrete blocks onto cars on a cargo train.

It is part of Indymedia's open publishing policy that controversial pieces should be 'hidden' on the site but not entirely removed. As the group felt that the article in question breached its editorial guidelines it was hidden one day after it was posted. In practice, this means that only a technically adept user, with an idea of how the story was worded when it first appeared, could relocate it.

In pursuit of the story's author, police requested access to the site's internet protocol (IP) logs which document the location of its users, but Indymedia refused on the grounds that the site's content should be protected by journalistic privilege.

Indymedia today told dotJournalism that a programming script deletes user's IP addresses from the site logs, and said it is unlikely that police could identify the unknown poster using the confiscated server.

"We don't really understand why our volunteer has been charged. It seems that anyone who hosts a website can be held responsible for someone else's actions," said a spokesperson for Indymedia.

"They appear to be attacking the fundamental principle of open publishing - and they don't understand that we operate without a large editorial team."

The group is now planning a fundraising event to raise money for new hosting space and to cover legal costs for the volunteer, due to be sentenced in October.

Volunteers are working on restoring the site using back-up data and expect Indymedia Bristol to be running again by the weekend.

The seizure is the second raid on Indymedia in eight months. In October 2004, the Indymedia network was brought down in 21 countries after an international police action to confiscate some of the group's servers from an internet service provider. No formal reason was given for the seizure, although the police operation was thought to be triggered by pictures which apparently showed undercover police at work during a demonstration in Geneva.

Bristol Indymedia was not affected by October's raids because the site housed its own independent server.

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