Tibet dissident writer under cyber-attack

BEIJING (Reuters) - A Beijing-based Tibetan dissident writer who has been writing about the unrest there has come under cyber-attack to silence her, and possibly implicate her associates, her husband and activists said on Wednesday.

Chinese riot police patrol the streets in Lhasa, Tibet March 29, 2008. REUTERS/Stringer

Hackers stole Woeser’s Skype identity on Tuesday and impersonated her in instant message exchanges with her Skype contacts, apparently to trick her 170-odd contacts into revealing politically sensitive information which could then be used to trump up charges against them, Wang Lixiong told Reuters.

“It’s a trap ... It’s a big threat to Woeser, but it’s an ever bigger threat to her friends,” Wang, author of the 1990s bestseller “Yellow Peril”, said by telephone.

Skype, which allows users to make telephone calls over the Internet from their computers to other Skype users free of charge, is popular among Chinese dissidents because they believe such calls cannot be monitored by the intelligence apparatus.

“My password has been changed and I can no longer log in ... The hijacker has begun to make contact with people in my account,” Woeser said in a statement.

Woeser, 41, who uses the name “Degewa” on Skype, has been under intermittent police surveillance since rioting erupted in the predominantly Buddhist region of Tibet in March.

Beijing police have warned Woeser to stop writing about Tibet. Her books are banned in China.

Kate Woznow, campaigns director of New York-based Students for a Free Tibet, described Woeser as a “lone voice” among Tibetans in China reporting on recent protests.

Hackers also hijacked Woeser's blog, removed its content and left an animation of China's five-star national flag fluttering below the headline: "Long Live the People's Republic of China! Down with all Tibetan independence elements!!!"

The Red Hackers’ Alliance, a group of nationalistic hackers, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Hackers also posted a picture of Woeser which they stole from her computer with a caption reading: “Can everybody please remember the stinking face of Tibetan separatist Woeser below. Whoever sees her, beat her hard like a dog in the water (bad person).”

Before the attack, Woeser’s blog had closely followed unrest in Tibet and Tibetan populated areas in nearby Chinese provinces. Her blog is hosted abroad and outside China’s firewall.

Hackers have also accessed her gmail account.

“This is a disturbing event,” Bob Dietz, Asia program coordinator of the New York-based watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists, said in a statement.

“Woeser is a strong independent voice with contacts in the Tibetan areas of China. To see her site taken down in this way shows the difficulty Tibetans face in disseminating information about their homeland.”

Authorities have shut down three of Woeser’s blogs maintained on Chinese servers in the past two years.

Editing by Lindsay Beck and Sanjeev Miglani