Cyber attacks follow Grace Mugabe's decision to sue newspaper for publishing allegations contained in US embassy cables
David Smith in Johannesburg
guardian.co.uk, Friday 31 December 2010 15.15 GMT
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Robert Mugabe's wife Grace is suing the Zimbabwe Standard newspaper for publishing information released by WikiLeaks that links her to the alleged trade in illicit diamonds. Photograph: Nasser Nasser/AP
Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe, has become the latest victim of online attacks by supporters of WikiLeaks, it was claimed today.
Cyber activists said they had brought down government websites after Mugabe's wife sued a newspaper for publishing a WikiLeaks cable that linked her with the alleged trade in illicit diamonds .
The Zimbabwean government website was unavailable today, while the finance ministry website displayed a message saying it was under maintenance.
Anonymous, a loose-knit group that has vowed to paralyse sites that act against WikiLeaks, said on its website: "We are targeting Mugabe and his regime in the Zanu-PF who have outlawed the free press and threaten to sue anyone publishing WikiLeaks."
Grace Mugabe has launched a defamation suit against Zimbabwe's Standard newspaper for $15m (£9.5m) for publishing details released by WikiLeaks suggesting that she had gained "tremendous profits" from the trade in illicit diamonds.
The offending article quotes from a US embassy cable that alleged she was among a group of elite Zimbabweans making "several hundred thousand dollars a month" from the sale of illegal stones mined in the politically sensitive Marange district. Grace Mugabe denies the allegations.
Zimbabwe's attorney general has formed a commission to investigate the WikiLeaks cables with a view to bring charges of treason against anyone found to be colluding with "aggressive" foreign governments. This has been seen as a thinly veiled attempt to target the country's prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai.
Anonymous, a 1,000-strong group of activists, rallied on behalf of WikiLeaks after Amazon and other companies terminated business services with the website. It launched Operation Payback to give firms deemed hostile to WikiLeaks a "black eye".
The websites of Visa, MasterCard, PayPal and the company that hosted WikiLeaks were all brought down after severing ties with the whistleblowing site.
The Swedish prosecution office's website was also attacked after it pressed for the extradition of the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, from the UK to face trial over alleged sexual offences.
Anonymous's so-called "distributed denial of service" (DDoS) attacks, which bring down sites by overpowering them with repeated requests to load, are illegal in the UK.