Hong Kong news sites have hit by a wave of cyber-attacks, with targets including the privately owned Apple Daily, noted for its critical view of Chinese authorities. Many observers suspect the Beijing government is behind the attacks.
The Apple Daily
site has been blocked since 18 June, following a series of hack attempts. Jimmy Lai, president of Next Media, which owns the news organization, points to China as the origin of the cyber-attacks. These began several days after a site hosting a simulation of a democratic referendum, popvote.hk
, was attacked.
“The fact that a paper known for its pro-democratic position is the target of cyber-attacks raises grave concerns about information freedom in Hong Kong,” Benjamin Ismaïl, head of the Asia-Pacific desk of Reporters Without Borders.
Though attacks on the Apple Daily
site are a daily occurrence, said Cheung Ka-sing, CEO of Next Media, “This time, the scale was unprecedented.” And on 20 June, the site
again was brought down.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying, asked to respond to accusations of her government’s involvement in the cyber-attacks, said, “I’m not aware of the details.” She added, “I’d like to point out that China is a victim of hacking from foreign countries.”
On 14 June, the popvote.hk
site, which organized the online referendum in preparation for elections in 2017, was hit by a series of hack attacks for which no one has claimed responsibility. In response, the site expanded the time allowed for voting, to ensure that all who wished to participate could do so. From 20 to 29 June, participants will be able to choose from three options on how the election for Hong Kong chief executive should be conducted.
Beijing has already announced opposition to a vote by universal suffrage with candidates free to hold themselves out for election. The Chinese government wants to propose its own list of candidates to voters.
The cyber-attacks have also hit sites hosted outside of China. Boxun
, headquartered in New York, states that it is a regular target of Chinese hackers who attempt to plant viruses, or links that allow tracking of users’ IP addresses.
A recent visit to Hong Kong by Reporters Without Borders allowed the organization to hear from numerous journalists, netizens and information freedom defenders. They all shared the view that freedom of information is eroding, with press freedom hampered by self-censorship as well as pressure from within some news organizations.
Hong Kong ranks 61st of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders world press freedom index