An online petition to free Chinese artist Ai Weiwei was attacked by Internet hackers, the U.S. operator of the website said.
Attacks against Change.org’s website this week originated from Chinese Internet addresses, Ben Rattray, chief executive officer at the U.S. company, said in an interview from Washington today. Change.org has reported the incident to U.S. government agencies including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to Rattray, who said he’s not certain about the identity of the attackers.
The reported detention of Ai, whose whereabouts have been unknown since April 3, by Chinese authorities has prompted protests from countries including the U.S. and Germany. China, which requires domestic websites to self-censor content deemed unacceptable by the government and blocks overseas services including Google Inc.’s YouTube, has said the artist is being investigated for suspected “economic crimes.”
The hackers are “preventing people across the world from taking action” in support of the Ai petition, Rattray said. Change.org’s website has been intermittently blocked in China in the past year, and the Ai petition has been supported by more than 92,000 users in 175 countries, he said.
Li Wufeng, chief of the Information Office Internet Affairs Bureau of China’s State Council, or cabinet, didn’t return a call to his office today seeking comment.
‘Denial of Service’
Ai was taken away by Chinese officials as he was prevented from boarding a flight to Hong Kong at Beijing’s airport on April 3, Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post reported on April 4. China’s investigation of Ai is related to suspicion of "economic crimes" and has nothing to do with human rights, according to Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei.
Change.org’s website was targeted by a “denial of service” interruption on April 17, Rattray said. The U.S. company, which helps promote causes for customers including Oxfam, is seeking to restore the service by circumventing the attacks using alternative networks, he said.
Ai’s Twitter Inc. page, which has more than 80,000 followers, contains posts supportive of more democracy in China and critical of Communist Party rule. The artist collaborated on the design of the Bird’s Nest Stadium in Beijing used for the 2008 Olympic games in China.
Google, owner of the world’s most popular search engine, moved its Chinese service to Hong Kong last year after saying the company’s systems were targeted by cyber-attacks originating from China.