Jul 04, 2011

East Turkestan: Cyber-Attacks Mark Anniversary of Urumqi Unrest

The website of the German-based World Uyghur Congress was hacked and disabled in the week before the 2nd anniversary of the ethnic unrest in East Turkestan, webmasters say that the attacks seem to originate from China; the organization has been targeted by similar attacks several times before.

Below is a press release published by the World Uyghur Congress:

Approaching the second anniversary of the 5 July 2009 events, the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) has again been the victim of cyber attacks. Since 28 June 2011, WUC´s website www.uyghurcongress.org has been inaccessible, and according to WUC´s webmasters, it was disabled through a “Distributed Denial-of-Service" (DDoS) attack originating in China and other countries. This is a type of cyber attack aimed at putting a site out-of-service, by submerging it with unnecessary traffic, and it may take days to fix the problem. This is not the first time that WUC´s work has been hampered through cyber attacks or other forms of harassment. Last year, in the days preceding the first 5 July anniversary, WUC´s office telephone line was completely blocked through constant calls from a non-identifiable number. In late 2009, WUC´s website was entirely destroyed through hacker and virus attacks. With these kind of actions, the Chinese government seeks to suppress any information that contradicts its official narrative about 5 July 2009 and to block WUC´s work for Uyghur human rights.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, noted in his recent report published in May 2011 that “cyber-attacks, or attempts to undermine or compromise the function of a computer-based system, include measures such as hacking into accounts or computer networks, and often take the form of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. […] As with timed blocking, such attacks are sometimes undertaken during key political moments. The Special Rapporteur also notes that websites of human rights organizations and dissidents are frequently and increasingly becoming targets of DDoS attacks.” He highlighted DDoS attacks against the human rights organization Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) whose website was made inaccessible in January 2010.

Mr. La Rue continues that “when a cyber-attack can be attributed to the State, it clearly constitutes inter alia a violation of its obligation to respect the right to freedom of opinion and expression. Although determining the origin of cyber-attacks and the identity of the perpetrator is often technically difficult, it should be noted that States have an obligation to protect individuals against interference by third parties that undermines the enjoyment of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. This positive obligation to protect entails that States must take appropriate and effective measures to investigate actions taken by third parties, hold the persons responsible to account, and adopt measures to prevent such recurrence in the future.”

In order to keep its supporters informed about the activities planned on and around the second 5 July anniversary, the WUC has created a temporary website https://uyghurcongress.wordpress.com/ and is also posting all information on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/uyghurcongress and Twitter https://twitter.com/UyghurCongress. The cyber attack is clearly directed at hampering WUC´s activities planned around the world to commemorate the victims of 5 July and to protest against the Chinese government´s prohibition on conducting an independent investigation into the events.


Background on 5 July 2011:

On July 5, 2009, Chinese security forces brutally suppressed a peaceful protest by Uyghurs in Urumqi, the regional capital of East Turkestan, and killed an untold number of protestors.  Ethnic unrest and violence followed, as well as one of the Chinese government’s fiercest and most repressive crackdowns on Uyghurs in history.

The human rights violations that the Chinese authorities have perpetrated against the Uyghurs in the aftermath of the July 2009 incidents have included but have not been limited to: mass and arbitrary detentions and enforced disappearances of Uyghurs (including of minors); arbitrary sentencing of Uyghurs to death, life, and various jail terms after trials plagued with intense politicization and strangleholds on due process; arbitrary executions; and intensified repression of freedom of expression, including but not limited to the detention and sentencing of Uyghur webmasters, bloggers, and journalists.