IFJ condemns cyber attack on site reporting Hong Kong “referendum”

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemns the continuing cyber attack on a Taiwan news website reporting on pro-democracy actions in Hong Kong. Apple Daily, a Chinese language newspaper published by Next Media, suffered a massive distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack starting on June 18. All Next Media Group websites and cell phone apps in Hong Kong and Taiwan were shut down for more than 10 hours. Although the Hong Kong systems have been fixed, the Taiwan website is still being targeted. Apple Daily reported that the Taiwan system was inundated with more than 2 million inquiries per second on June 23. The report also said the paper found that a pass code for a “switch” had been changed by unknown person. The attack made the connection speed to the site unstable. A Next Media Group senior executive who is responsible for the IT system told the IFJ: “We are still investigating the attack. We noticed that some of the attacks came from Russia, United States and China, but we are not sure of their origins. The attack has not stopped yet. The current attack is aimed at the Taiwan system. The speed of the Hong Kong system is still slower than before the massive attack occurred. Our top task is to make sure all news reports can be uploaded to the internet. “We don’t know who changed the pass code of the ‘switch’, but it could have been done by an outsider,” the executive added. When the cyber attacks began, Next Media chairman Jimmy Lai Chi-ying blamed the Chinese central authorities, saying Beijing wanted to silence supporters of a mock referendum on franchise options for the election of Hong Kong’s next chief executive in 2017. Apple Daily had launched a separate online platform on June 13 to focus on reporting on the mock referendum. It also published several articles about the planned poll. The online “referendum” was instigated by the Occupy Central Movement, which is calling on the Hong Kong Government and the Central Government of China to conduct the 2017 chief executive election on the basis of international standards of universal suffrage. The poll was conducted over June20-22 by the University of Hong Kong’s public opinion program, using paper ballots and the PopVote website, which also came under attack. More than half a million people registered their votes. China’s State Council Information Office issued a directive dated June 23 to news organisations and websites around the country. The directive said: “Effective immediately, find and delete all news related to the 6/22 Hong Kong referendum, thoroughly clean up related comments, and promptly send a work report. Forcibly cancel blogs and microblog posts reprinting harmful information. Ensure that no information related to the referendum appears online.” Many bloggers were unable to post updates on the number of votes cast. A Mainland journalist told the IFJ: “Just the number for the ‘referendum’. It was forbidden when I posted it on weibo on June 20.” Chen Ping, an independent commentator, said news reports on the voting by Hong Kong television stations were blocked by the authorities in Guangdong Province. The IFJ Asia-Pacific Office said: “The Chinese authorities have been using the media to attack the ‘referendum’ and the Hong Kong Government, including the Chief Executive, have said repeatedly that the ‘referendum’ has no legal weight. However, they should defend the poll and respect the fact that the ‘voting’ is a form of free expression.” We urge all media personnel to stand firm and report on all issues of public concern.