The Canadian arm of rights group Amnesty International said on Monday it had been hit by what it termed a “sophisticated digital security breach” that it believed was sponsored by China.
Strained relations between Canada and China have become even more tense in recent weeks, with Ottawa accusing Beijing of interfering with its democratic institutions.
Amnesty International Canada said in a statement it discovered the hack of its English-speaking section on October 5. It conducted its own preliminary investigation and then contacted cybersecurity firm Secureworks.
The external firm established that “a threat group sponsored or tasked by the Chinese state” appeared to be behind the hack, which Amnesty said was “consistent with others carried out by Chinese cyberespionage threat groups”.
The rights group’s systems had been restored and there was no indication its donor or membership data had been shared externally, Amnesty International Canada secretary general Ketty Nivyabandi said.
She said the group would not be intimidated by the hack and that it had strengthened its digital security.
“This case of cyberespionage speaks to the increasingly dangerous context which activists, journalists, and civil society alike must navigate today,” Nivyabandi said.
“Our work to investigate and denounce these acts has never been more critical and relevant.”
Amnesty and other rights groups have been critical of China’s treatment of minority groups, including the mostly Muslim Uyghur community in the northwestern region of Xinjiang.
China has defended its approach in the region as counter-terrorism and education measures.
The wider spat between Beijing and Ottawa became public at the G20 summit in Indonesia in November when Chinese President Xi Jinping scolded Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after details from talks between the two leaders were leaked.