REUTERS - Three Chinese films have been withdrawn from Australia's biggest film festival in an apparent boycott after China's government protested over the inclusion of a documentary about restive ethnic Uighurs.
Chinese consular staff last week contacted organisers of the Melbourne International Film Festival to demand they dump a film about exiled Uighur businesswoman Rebiya Kadeer, blamed by Beijing for instigating this month's ethnic riots in Xinjiang.
Now three Chinese films, "Perfect Life," "Petition" and "Cry Me a River", have been withdrawn in protest at Kadeer's planned attendance at the festival next month. "It's a terrible inconvenience but more than that, beyond the inconvenience, it's a terrible thing to happen to the festival that all this political pressure has been brought on us this year," festival organiser Richard Moore told state radio.
"Perfect Life" producer Jia Zhangke, whose company was also behind "Cry Me a River", wrote to Moore to say he had withdrawn both films to protest against Kadeer's involvement.
The third film, "Petition", depicts the struggle of ordinary Chinese battling the country's corrupt bureaucracy.
China's consulate in Melbourne telephoned Moore last week to insist the documentary "The 10 Conditions of Love" be withdrawn ahead of its Aug. 8 premiere.
The documentary 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.
"We stick by our guns. We'll play it and we won't bow to that form of bullying," said Moore after the boycott became clear. 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".
Relations between China and Australia have been strained by the detention last week by Chinese security officials of four staff working for global miner Rio Tinto, related to accusations of commercial spying.
Uighurs attacked Han Chinese in Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang, 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 violence saw 197 people killed and more than 1,600 wounded, mostly Han Chinese. About 1,000 people, mostly Uighurs, have been detained in an ensuing government crackdown.
Uighurs are a Muslim people native to Xinjiang, in China's far west, and culturally tied to Central Asia and Turkey.