CANBERRA (Reuters) - China’s government, entangled in a row with Australia over alleged commercial spying, has stirred more controversy by demanding a documentary about restive ethnic Uighurs be dropped from Australia’s largest film festival.
Chinese consular staff contacted organizers of the Melbourne International Film Festival urging them to dump a film about exiled Uighur businesswoman Rebiya Kadeer, blamed by Beijing for instigating this month’s ethnic riots in Xinjiang.
China’s consulate in Melbourne phoned last week to insist the documentary “The 10 Conditions of Love” be withdrawn ahead of its August 8 premiere and demanding justification for its inclusion, festival director Richard Moore said on Wednesday.
“No-one reacts well to strident approaches, or to the appearance of being bullied. I don’t think it’s a positive way of behaving,” Moore told Reuters.
The call, he said, came from the new Melbourne cultural attache Chunmei Chen. Calls to the consulate by Reuters on Wednesday went unanswered.
“She urged me to withdraw the film from the festival and then told me in no uncertain terms that I should justify my decision to include the film in the festival program,” Moore said.
The incident is attracting widespread media attention in Australia.
The film tells of Kadeer’s relationship with activist husband Sidik Rouzi and the fallout on her 11 children of her push for more autonomy for China’s 10 million mainly-Muslim Uighurs. Three of her children have been jailed.
China’s government accuses Kadeer’s World Uighur Congress of being a front for extremist militants pushing for a separate East Turkistan homeland. She was arrested in 1999 and found guilty of “providing secret information to foreigners.”
China’s embassies and consular staff are keeping a low profile in Australia since the detention last week by Chinese security officials of four staff working for global miner Rio Tinto, related to accusations of commercial spying.
Australian lawmakers have accused China’s government of using heavy-handed tactics, with some analysts linking the detentions to tough iron ore price negotiations between Aglo-Australian Rio Tinto and Chinese steel firms.
Uighurs attacked Han Chinese in Urumqi on July 5 after police tried to break up a protest against fatal attacks on Uighur workers at a factory in south China. Han Chinese in Urumqi launched revenge attacks later in the week.
The official death toll now stands at 184, of which 137 were Han Chinese, who form the majority of China’s 1.3 billion population, and 46 were Uighur, a Muslim people native to Xinjiang and culturally tied to Central Asia and Turkey.
Editing by Jerry Norton