A Massachusetts man awaiting trial for orchestrating a digital protest against a Boston hospital is protesting his prosecution with a hunger strike now in its second week.
Martin Gottesfeld, 32, has been in federal custody at a Rhode Island detention center since shortly after he was arrested in February and charged in relation to a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack waged against Boston Children’s Hospital in 2014.
A former systems engineer, Mr. Gottesfeld admitted last month to targeting the hospital’s computer networks after reading about the alleged mistreatment suffered by a 15-year-old patient, Justina Pelletier. Now in the face of a possible five years in prison, he told Newsweek that he’s stopped eating and would “rather die” than give the government another hacking conviction.
Mr. Gottesfeld started refusing food on Oct. 3 in an effort to have the U.S. presidential candidates take a stand on two issues he’s particularly passionate about, his wife told Newsweek: the abuse endured by teenagers like Ms. Pelletier, and the “political” style of prosecution conducted by U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, the federal prosecutor for the District of Massachusetts.
“My motive for the strike is to get pledges from candidates so that something can finally happen after decades of children being tortured, abused and killed,” Dana Gottesfeld told Newsweek on behalf of her husband. “It’s inexcusable for the death and abuse of so many children go unpunished. We should do better for America’s youth.”
Mr. Gottesfeld participated in an internet campaign conducted under the name of hacktivist group Anonymous that disrupted the hospital’s computer networks in 2014 and caused more than $300,000 in reported damages. The FBI said it traced Mr. Gottesfeld to a computer that issued a call to arms over social media, and he admitted last month to writing the code used in the DDoS attack in “defense of an innocent, learning disabled, 15-year-old girl.”
“Justina wasn’t defenseless. Under the banner of Anonymous, she and other institutionalized children could and would be protected,” he wrote in a statement to Huffington Post.
Ms. Pellettier’s parents sued Boston Children’s Hospital and four of its doctors for gross negligence and civil rights violations in February.
Mr. Gottesfeld faces up to five years in federal prison if he’s convicted on one count of conspiracy under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) – a widely-contentious hacking law that spurred calls for reform after computer programmer Aaron Swartz committed suicide in 2013 while awaiting trial over alleged CFAA violations of his own brought by the same federal prosecutor, Ms. Ortiz.
“After seeing and hearing of so many such atrocities against children, understanding the struggle of advocates and survivors against already seemingly impossible odds and now witnessing how little has changes as a result of the last tragic prosecution of an activist in Boston under the CFAA, I would rather die than allow Carmen Ortiz to succeed in this attempt to rewrite history,” he wrote Newsweek.
“I will not ear nor consent to any artificial nutrition until the might of the United States of America is once again focused on protecting its children instead of those who abuse them,” he added.
Mr. Gottesfeld was eight pounds lighter Tuesday after a week without food, Newsweek reported. Ms. Ortiz’s office declined to comment on his hunger strike when reached by Newsweek.
A petition that called for Ms. Ortiz’s termination in the wake of Swartz’s suicide was digitally signed more than 60,000 times on the White House website and prompted the Obama administration to issue an official response. The White House called Swartz’s death a “tragic, unthinkable loss,” but said it wouldn’t use its online petition portal to address agency personnel matters.