Hackers posted a Chinese flag on the website of an Australian film festival in an escalation of protests against the planned appearance by an exiled Uighur activist whom Beijing blames for deadly ethnic riots in China's west, an official said yesterday.
The cyber attack on the Melbourne International Film Festival, which also received a flurry of critical emails, came after four Chinese films pulled out of the event and a Chinese diplomat protested over the screening of a documentary about activist Rebiya Kadeer, whom Beijing says incited the violence this month between Muslim Uighurs and Han Chinese that left nearly 200 dead.
China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang criticised the screening and Kadeer's appearance earlier this month, saying: "Everyone knows the kind of person that Rebiya is. We are firmly opposed to any foreign country providing her with a stage for her anti-China separatist activities."
Kadeer, who lives in exile in the United States and will attend the festival on August 8, denies any role in the ethnic violence.
Festival spokeswoman Louise Heseltine said a hacker put a Chinese flag on the website for 45 minutes on Saturday as well as English-language messages demanding organisers apologise to all Chinese for including Kadeer.
The website host discovered hundreds of other attempts to hack into it, Heseltine said.
The Kadeer documentary, 10 Conditions of Love, premiered on Sunday.
ABC television news said it had contacted a Chinese citizen in China who claimed responsibility for the hacking. The hacker denied any link to the Government, saying he was motivated by anger at the screening of the documentary.
Festival director Richard Moore said the site had been slowed by the hacking, and online ticket sales had suffered: "We have received over the last two weeks virtually a mini tsunami of emails that I can only describe as being vile."
Moore said a Chinese diplomat at the Melbourne consulate two weeks before the festival opened told him to withdraw the Kadeer film.
The documentary's director, Jeff Daniels, blamed the Chinese Government for the protests: "I personally find it appalling that the Chinese Government has put the film festival and filmgoers in the position where they need police escort and private security to see a film."
THE FESTIVAL: The Melbourne International Film Festival, Australia's biggest film festival, is screening almost 300 films.
THE FILM: 10 Conditions of Love is a documentary about Uighur activist Rebiya Kadeer by Australian director Jeff Daniels.
THE SUBJECT: The documentary looks at the life of Kadeer, 62, who spent six years in a Chinese prison before she was released into exile in the United States in 2005. In 2004, she won the Rafto Prize for human rights.
THE CONTROVERSY: China blames Kadeer for inciting violence in Xinjiang province where about 200 people died and 1600 were injured this month. Kadeer is to attend the film festival on August 8.