The Sydney affiliate of International PEN issued a statement to condemn China’s latest attempt to force the organiser of the Melbourne Film Festival to remove The Ten Conditions of Love from its 2009 program. Sydney PEN also appealed for the imminent release of Chinese PEN member Liu Xiaobo and Uighur PEN centre member Iham Tohti. Liu Xiaobo has been formally arrested in June after in detention for more than six months and is now awaiting trial. Iham Tohti has disappeared and is believed to have been detained for blogging about the Urumqi riot.
Sydney PEN’s statement reads:
Sydney PEN condemns censorship attempt; congratulates Melbourne Film Festival
Sydney PEN, the influential body of writers and readers devoted to freedom of expression, has congratulated the Melbourne International Film Festival for its firm stance against Chinese attempts to censor its 2009 festival program.
Melbourne International Film Festival director, Richard Moore, revealed this week how an official from the Chinese Consulate in Melbourne telephoned him, demanding he withdraw the documentary, The 10 Conditions of Love, from his festival this month. The film profiles the Uighur businesswoman and leader in exile, Rebiya Kadeer. The Chinese government describes Kadeer as a terrorist and blames her for instigating the deadly ethnic riots in Xinjiang this month.
Sydney PEN president, Virginia Lloyd, condemned the Chinese Consulate’s attempt to censor the festival. “We congratulate Mr Moore for holding firm against this objectionable pressure,” she said.
Dr Lloyd said China’s harsh stance on free speech in its own country was well documented, with 47 writers currently imprisoned there because of their writing and political views – more than any other country in the world. However, for Chinese diplomatic staff to demand censorship of free speech within Australia was a disturbing development, she said. Such attempts must be vigorously rejected.
Dr Lloyd said the attempt to censor the Melbourne screening of the documentary was of deep concern.
“In Australia we are extremely fortunate to enjoy a high degree of free expression. However, attempts are often made to curtail this, in overt and subtle ways. We must be vigilant against censorship in all its forms, and vocal in demanding that our freedom of expression be protected,” said Dr Lloyd.
“Working with our colleagues at International PEN, our members seek the release of many imprisoned Chinese writers. Currently these include the leading writer, dissident and literary critic, Liu Xiaobo, who after six months in detention without charge or trial was formally arrested in Beijing on June 23 and charged with ‘inciting subversion of state power’. Along with human rights organisations around the world, we are calling for Liu Xiaobo’s immediate release.”
PEN is also deeply concerned by the detention of Uighur writer, academic and member of the Uighur PEN Centre, Iham Tohti, who was reportedly arrested in Beijing on 6 July 2009. He had spoken out on the ethnic unrest which broke out in Urumqi on 5 July.