HONG KONG—The editor of a U.S.-based Chinese-language pro-democracy website said Thursday the site was brought down by hackers, linking the cyberattack to the nomination of a prominent Chinese dissident for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Chai Chu, editorial director of "Democratic China" [www.minzhuzhongguo.org], said the attack paralyzed the entire site, which took 12 hours for technicians to bring back online.
"Our technicians took a look and told us that the files at the back-end of the site had been tampered with," Chai said. "This caused the entire site to freeze, exactly as if it was infected with a virus."
Democratic China was first set up as a poetry magazine in 1989, and later migrated online. It was once edited by dissident Liu Xiaobo, who is currently serving an 11-year jail term for subversion, and hosted debate and commentary on Charter 08, a controversial political document that he helped to draft.
The 54-year old Liu, once a leading Beijing intellectual and literary critic, is among favorites to win the Nobel Peace Prize to be announced on Oct. 8.
Liu's wife, Liu Xia, said she had received a visit from Beijing's national security police on the eve of the announcement.
"The police came to visit me for a chat today. They were very polite," she said. "They didn't say much about [the Nobel prize], just that they had been very busy over this issue in recent days."
Earlier, Liu Xia said via the microblogging service Twitter that she had been invited to go and visit her husband in prison by police on Thursday, in the northeastern province of Liaoning.
"I didn't agree," she wrote.
Further attacks expected
Chinese netizen Liu Yiming said he had tried to access the site on Wednesday amid a flurry of online discussion about Liu Xiaobo's nomination for the peace prize.
"I tried to visit the Democratic China site because of Liu Xiaobo's Nobel Prize nomination, because there is a lot of energy in this topic at the moment," Liu Yiming said.
"Also, Liu Xiaobo was once the editor-in-chief of 'Democratic China.' I am pretty sure there must be a direct connection to this online attack," he added.
Chai said he expects further attacks on the site in the future.
"Democratic China gets attacked at specific times, and I think this time has to do with the Nobel Prize," he said.
"There is quite a high likelihood that it will be awarded to Liu Xiaobo ... If he does [win], this will help boost the democratic movement in China."
Debate over nomination
China's vice foreign minister Fu Ying has warned the director of the Norway-based Nobel Institute, Geir Lundestad, against awarding the prize to Liu, Lundestad has said, while other Chinese officials have called Liu an "unsuitable candidate."
While more than 100 Chinese scholars, lawyers, and reform campaigners have lobbied the Nobel committee on behalf of Liu, a number of dissidents have also written in recent days to urge them to choose someone else.
"His open praise in the last 20 years for the [Chinese Communist Party], which has never stopped trampling human rights, has been extremely misleading and influential," said a letter dated Oct. 4 and signed by 15 Chinese intellectuals, many of whom now live overseas, and all of whom described themselves as critics of Beijing.
"Through these deeds he has lost the moral image fit for a Nobel Peace Prize recipient," said the letter, which accused Liu Xiaobo of making a speech on national television denying the massacre of civilians following the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square.
The letter also hit out at the letter sent to Norway in support of Liu Xiaobo for using the names of some signatories without their consent.
They included New York-based dissident Yang Zi, whose name was included in the list of signatories to the letter supporting Liu's nomination, but who was also listed as having signed the letter that criticized him.
Author of Charter 08
Liu was jailed last December on subversion charges after he was identified as the key author of Charter 08, a document published online in 2008 that called for sweeping political change in China.
A pro-democracy manifesto that called on the Communist Party to enact political reforms and uphold the constitutional rights of Chinese citizens, Charter 08 was signed by 303 mainland intellectuals and sent shock waves through the highest echelons of China’s leadership.
Liu was arrested on the eve of its publication in 2008 and sentenced to 11 years in prison on Dec. 25, 2009 for "inciting subversion of state power."
Other contenders for this year's Nobel prize include Zimbabwe's prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
Previous Nobel Peace Prize laureates have included Burma's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and South Africa's former president Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Tutu.
Laureates are selected by secret ballot by the Nobel committee from a shortlist of nominees drawn from a list prepared by approved institutions and international experts.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Fang Yuan and Xin Yu. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.