A San Francisco-based website promoting social justice has been crippled by computer hackers due to its support for a Chinese dissident, the site claimed Monday.
Change.org founder Ben Rattray asked the U.S. State Department to condemn the “highly sophisticated” attacks, which he said began last Monday and have been traced to Internet servers in China. They began following the website’s online petition to free Ai WeiWei, a recently detained artist who has been critical of the Chinese government.
The petition, begun by several noted art museums about two weeks ago, has since gathered about 120,000 signatures.
Normally, Change.org receives more than 100,000 unique visitors a day, but since the attacks, more than 10 million page requests have been recorded daily, an increase in traffic that has caused major problems at the site.
Rattray said the organization is improving its ability to filter out artificial page requests, but until the hackers stop the attack, the site will continue to suffer. Right now, 99 percent of the traffic coming into the site is “bad
traffic,” he said.
“It’s one thing for elements of the Chinese government to block access to our site to residents in China,” said Rattray. “But it’s quite another thing to launch an assault that prohibits people in other countries from a fundamental right to organize.”
So far, Change.org has not received any word from the State Department, which has in the past condemned attacks by hackers on Google.
U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., released a statement Monday asking Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to denounce the hacking, calling it “an attack on Americans’ fundamental right to free speech and another example of the Government of China’s intent to restrain human rights.”
“The American public rightly expects protection from foreign cyber-attacks against digital communications,” DeLauro said.
The site has also asked the FBI to investigate the attacks, but the agency has not taken any discernible action, according to Rattray.
Local FBI spokeswoman Julianne Sohn would not confirm or deny an investigation. The Chinese Consulate in San Francisco did not return calls for comment.
Ai WeiWei is one of China’s best-known artists internationally and helped design the country’s Bird’s Nest stadium for the 2008 Olympic Games.
He is also a critic of the Chinese government, having been outspoken about national scandals such as the deaths of students in poorly built schools in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, children poisoned by melamine-tainted infant formula and a deadly Shanghai high-rise fire blamed in part on corrupt building inspectors. He was reportedly detained by Chinese security in Beijing on April 3 as he tried to board a plane to Hong Kong.
The government now says he is under investigation for tax evasion. Charges of economic crimes have been used by the government against dissidents in the past as a form of political persecution.
Source: Associated Press