Chinese boycott Australian festival in Uighur row


June 18, 2010 Updated Jul 22, 2009 at 4:11 AM EDT

Chinese directors have pulled their movies out of Australia's biggest film festival in a row over a documentary about a Uighur leader accused of inciting unrest, organisers said Wednesday.

Melbourne festival head Richard Moore said two Chinese film-makers pulled their movies after he ignored pressure from Beijing to drop the documentary about Rebiya Kadeer, US-based head of the World Uighur Congress.

Moore said he believed Beijing had ordered the withdrawal of films "Perfect Life" and "Cry Me a River" in an attempt at political intimidation ahead of the August 8 screening, which will be attended by Kadeer.

"It's hard to draw any other conclusion," he told AFP.

"It makes me feel angry, annoyed and irritated all at the same time, that they would try to interfere with our program for blatantly political ends."

Moore said an official from Melbourne's Chinese consulate called him earlier this month and urged him to withdraw the documentary, "Ten Conditions of Love", by Australian film-maker Jeff Daniels.

After he "politely hung up" and ignored the request, Moore received a letter this week from Chinese producer Chow Keung notifying him of the films' withdrawal and criticising the organisers for inviting Kadeer to Australia.

Chow said in the letter that most families of those who died in recent violence between ethnic Uighurs and Han Chinese in the region of Xinjiang believed the World Uighur Congress was involved.

"I am not here to identify the murderer, however in such sorrowful circumstances, it really offends my sense of morals to participate in (the festival) this year," he wrote.

Moore said Beijing's apparent attempts to interfere had backfired, with an extra screening of the documentary being scheduled due to overwhelming public interest stirred up by the controversy.

Chinese authorities have accused Kadeer of orchestrating the recent bloodshed in Xinjiang, home to the mostly Muslim Uighurs and a growing number of settlers from China's Han majority.

Violence that erupted between the two groups this month left at least 197 people dead and over 1,600 injured, according to Chinese authorities.

Kadeer, who spent six years in a Chinese prison before she was released in 2005 under US pressure, has denied Beijing's accusations.

The Victoria state government minister responsible for the festival, Gavin Jennings, said it should be free from any political interference.

"The government is a strong believer in free speech," his office told AFP.

"The Victorian government believes decisions about what movies people can or can't see should not be dictated by political considerations."

Greens senator Bob Brown called for Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's government to issue a similar condemnation of China's actions, saying Beijing should not try to dictate what Australians can watch.

"We're dealing with a police state, not a democracy ... the government needs to tell Beijing that we don't appreciate the type of censorship that it's trying to lever on the Melbourne film festival," he told reporters.

Federal Arts Minister Peter Garrett declined to comment, and the Chinese embassy in Canberra and consulate in Melbourne did not respond to calls.

However, China last week said it opposed any foreign platform for Kadeer.

"What kind of person Rebiya Kadeer is, we are all very clear," foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters.

"We oppose any foreign countries providing her with a platform to engage in anti-China separatist activities."

Separately, Moore said a third Chinese director, Zhao Liang, asked the festival to drop his film "Petition" because he feared repercussions over the controversial documentary examining injustices in China's court system.

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