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Chinese Hackers Attack Ai Weiwei Petition

Petition for Ai Weiwei's release on Change.org

A distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack carried out by Chinese hackers took down Change.org’s petition to free Ai Weiwei yesterday. Led by the Guggenheim museum and support by major international art figures, the petition has been gaining steam with over 90,000 signatures. The site is now back online.

Eyeteeth confirmed the downtime, and Change.org has sent out a press release describing the attacks, which “made the site completely inaccessible for a few hours.” They write,

“We do not know the reason or exact source of these attacks,” said Ben Rattray, the founder of Change.org. “All we know is that after the unprecedented success of a campaign by leading global art museums using our platform to call on the Chinese government to release Ai Weiwei, we became the victims of highly sophisticated denial of service attacks from locations in China.”

Though the attacks came from within China, it’s impossible to tell if the attack was orchestrated by the government or was simply the reaction of angry Chinese nationalist netizens. It’s a largely accepted rumor that the Chinese government has developed teams of hackers to carry out forceful diplomacy online, yet it’s important to remember that we can’t pin these attacks on anyone in particular, much less the government. All we can do is defend websites as best we can, particularly visible and significant ones like Change.org.

The targeting of the Ai Weiwei petition is a clear sign that controversy hasn’t cooled off over the artist’s arrest. The story continues to develop.

  • Ai’s lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan has returned safe after disappearing for a period of days, though Liu won’t say where he has been.
  • Ai Weiwei’s sister Gao Ge has released a letter written in 1978 from Ai in which the artist describes his family’s difficult situation as his father Ai Qing fell out of favor with the Chinese Communist government and was exiled to Western China.
  • Website Free Ai Weiwei reports that Ai’s “staff, family and volunteers published an open letter urging the authorities to follow the law and appropriate procedures in handling Ai Weiwei’s case, and to investigate into the disappearance of the associates.”
  • Famed novelist and writer Salman Rushdie, himself the subject of a fatwah and death threats, writes an op-ed for the New York Times on Ai’s arrest and how art can be dangerous. Rushdie writes, Ai’s “release is a matter of extreme urgency and the governments of the free world have a clear duty in this matter.” “Today the government of China has become the world’s greatest threat to freedom of speech, and so we need Ai Weiwei, Liao Yiwu and Liu Xiaobo.”
  • Sit-in protests staged this past Sunday at Chinese embassies worldwide demonstrated widespread support for Ai’s case. Organizations continue to release statements and speak out for the artist’s release, though the UNremains silent.
  • Katja Wehling sends us this documentary of Ai Weiwei’s “Fairytale,” seen through the eyes of Belgian artist Wim Delvoye. The two artists chat extensively and tour the dormitories of Ai Weiwei’s piece, walking around town.

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