Australian Broadcaster Gingerly Airs Uyghur Film in Asia

After two years, a documentary dealing with conditions for China’s Uyghur population which became a diplomatic flashpoint between China and Australia will be aired internationally on the Australian Network – although the network has voluntarily blocked the feed to its Asian satellite.

The documentary, titled The 10 Conditions of Love, is to be shown internationally Sunday –sort of. Australian Network aired it domestically in Australia two years ago over Chinese protests but backed away from televising it internationally at the time. Critics charged that the network had caved in to Chinese demands for fear of losing its so-called “footprint” for broadcasting regular coverage into China.

China mounted outraged protests when the film was screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival in 2009. It has since screened globally at more than 40 film festivals and shown for world leaders at the EU Parliament, the US Congress and United Nations events, according to a statement by John Lewis, the producer.

Organizers of the 2009 Melbourne festival refused a demand by the Chinese consulate that the film be withdrawn and for the invitation for Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer, the film’s subject, to be dropped. When the organizers refused, the festival website was hacked and information was replaced with a picture of the Chinese flag along with insulting remarks about Kadeer. A denial of service attack shut down the website. Several Chinese directors also pulled out of the event and death threats were sent to the organizers.

The film is to be shown in India, Pakistan, Japan and several other countries. However, according to Lewis’s statement, Australian Network will not put it on the satellite that beams coverage to China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Burma, Laos, Vietnam, North Korea or Papua New Guinea – a total population of more than 2.04 billion.

“The producers of the film are delighted that the film will be broadcast after a two-year delay, but are disappointed that the critical Asian audience - particularly China – has been blocked. Clearly, the decision is based on China’s rabid response to this film in the past,“ Lewis said. “In the ABC’s anxiety to accommodate China, it means the rest of Asia misses out. Today, I sent an email to ABC CEO Mark Scott asking why he continues to allow China to preempt Australian external programming by the national broadcaster.”

Kadeer has become into one of China’s reviled figures, almost on a par with another “splittist,” the Dalai Lama, after protests that turned violent in China’s western province of Xinjiang in July of 2009 in which at least 200 people were killed. Kadeer’s family members have been imprisoned and their property has been seized, according to exile leaders living in the United States.

The Uyghur leader, once a prominent businesswoman in Xinjiang, kicked off another diplomatic fuss in May when Tokyo issued an entry visa for her to attend the World Uyghur Congress, a Japan-based Uyghur organization. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei condemned the Japanese move, saying "We express our strong opposition to the relevant actions of the Japanese side."

The predominantly Muslim Uyghur population, which has grown increasingly hostile to Han Chinese immigrants to the area, say the toll was far higher. In February of this year, it is believed that Muslims armed with knives attacked and killed at least 12 people near Kashgar near China’s western border with Pakistan.

The Council on Foreign Relations, in a recent report, said the number of Han Chinese migrants to the sparsely populate region, which covers almost 20 percent of China’s territory has risen from 6.7 percent in 1949 to nearly 40 percent today. Although China denies it, critics say they have encouraged migration into the area, straining limited resources including land and water. China says its policies in the region are designed to promote economic development, not demographic change, according to the Council.

As Asia Sentinel has reported in several stories since 2007, there is spreading outrage over government plans to redevelop parts of the ancient quarter of Kashgar and to resettle the residents. The Uyghurs believe the plans are an attempt to destroy the Uyghur culture.

Last year, there was a major crackdown in Xinjiang Province, the western Uyghur province of China, when Uyghurs were arrested and shops closed for selling copies of The 10 Conditions of Love, John Lewis said.