10 August 2009

Film festival appearance causes China to demand the revocation of Australia visa

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Chinese authorities have expressed strong opposition after Rebiya Kadeer, head of the World Uighur Congress, was issued a temporary Australia visa in order for her to attend the Melbourne International Film Festival.

The Melbourne International Film Festival’s web site was hacked on July 25 and defaced with a Chinese flag and a  warning: “We like film but we hate Rebiya Kadeer! We like peace and we hate East Turkistan terrorist! Please apologize to all the Chinese people!”

A week later 400 Internet users, many traced to China, knocked out the ticketing system on the site, melbournefilmfestival.com.au, in a series of attacks that made it appear as if 125 screenings at the Australian festival were sold out.

The cyber assaults were a protest against the appearance of Ms Kadeer, the Uighur leader, at a screening on Saturday of The 10 Conditions of Love, a documentary about her life.

The Chinese government has accused Ms Kadeer of inciting the ethnic violence between Muslim Uighurs and Han Chinese in the Xinjiang region of northwest China that claimed at least 197 lives last month.

Ms Kadeer, who lives in exile in the United States, has denied any involvement.

The controversy served only to bolster interest in the film and Ms Kadeer’s appearance and to meet the demand, festival organizers moved the film’s sold-out premiere to the city’s 1,500-seat Town Hall.

On Saturday a dozen pro-China demonstrators were vastly outnumbered by the line of ticketholders waiting to see the film. Although Ms Kadeer entered through the back, and the police intervened between some pro-Chinese-government and pro-Uighur protesters outside, the screening went smoothly.

Chinese government officials had demanded that Australia “immediately correct its wrongdoings” by canceling the screening and Ms Kadeer’s Australia visa.

When those requests were ignored, the Chinese government threatened on Friday to sever Melbourne’s sister-city ties with the Chinese city of Tianjin.

Seven Chinese-language films from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan were withdrawn, their directors saying the festival had become too politicized.

One filmmaker, Tang Xiaobai, said that the Chinese Foreign Ministry and the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television had alerted her about the Kadeer film but denied she was forced to boycott the festival, according to China Daily, the official English-language newspaper.

Other festivals around the world have already withdrawn support for the film, said its director, Jeff Daniels. “Where does this stop?” he told the New York Times.

“This is just a film festival. What’s next?”


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