Google: China ‘jasmine movement’ website wasn’t hacked

BEIJING (AP) — Google said Friday it had found no evidence that the website of a group that has called for pro-democracy protests in China was hacked, like the group claimed.

Molihuaxingdong — or “jasmine movement” in Chinese — runs one of several websites that have put out weekly appeals for peaceful protests in various cities across China and elsewhere. The group told The Associated Press by email that all of the content on its Google-hosted site had been removed Thursday afternoon.

Where previously the group’s site contained pages of text, photos and other content, on Thursday the site became an empty page bearing only the words: “long live the jasmine flower.” Hours later, the group posted a notice about the attack on the site, saying it believed its data and content could be recovered.

A Google spokeswoman, who asked not to be identified by name, said in an email that there was no evidence of hacking.

“We’ve determined that this was not a case of hacking, but rather an issue resulting from back-end maintenance on the blogger platform,” the spokeswoman said.

The “jasmine movement” group and at least half a dozen other websites have issued calls to protest.

Though the calls have attracted few outright protesters, they have spooked the Chinese government into launching one of its broadest campaigns of repression in years to keep the protests from catching on, as they have in the Middle East and North Africa.

Other websites that have posted calls for protests or advocated for the release of detained dissidents have come under attack from hackers in recent months. Hundreds of lawyers, activists, and other intellectuals have been questioned, detained, confined to their homes or simply disappeared, apparently to squelch any chance of a popular rising.

The U.S.-based social-networking site said on April 19 that its website suffered a distributed denial-of-service attack making it inaccessible after it issued a call for the release of Chinese artist and government critic Ai Weiwei. The website helps users start campaigns to advance specific causes.

The appeal had met with responses from than 90,000 people in 175 countries, but the shutdown was apparently caused by a malicious coordinated attack by a flood of computers all trying to connect to the single site at the same time, which overwhelm the computer server that handles the traffic.

The U.S.-based Chinese-language dissident news site came under a similar attack in late February after anonymous protest calls were posted on its forum.