Hackers posted a Chinese flag on the Web site 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 Sunday.
The cyberattack on the Melbourne International Film Festival — which also received a flurry of critical e-mails — came after four Chinese films pulled out of the event and a Chinese diplomat protested 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 criticized the screening and Kadeer's planned 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 in Australia's second largest city Aug. 8, denies any role in the ethnic violence — the worst China has seen in decades.
Festival spokeswoman Louise Heseltine said a hacker put a Chinese flag on the Web site for 45 minutes on Saturday — the day after the festival opened — as well as English-language messages demanding that festival organizers apologize to all Chinese for including Kadeer in the program.
The Web site host discovered hundreds of other attempts to hack into it, Heseltine said.
The Kadeer documentary, "10 Conditions of Love," premiered at the festival Sunday night. There were no disturbances at the screening, Victoria state police spokeswoman Senior Constable Kendra Jackson said. She said police would monitor future screenings.
Australian Broadcasting Corp. television news on Sunday said it had contacted a Chinese citizen in China who claimed responsibility for the hacking.
The hacker sent an e-mail in which he denied any link to the government, saying he was motivated by anger at the screening of the Kadeer documentary, ABC reported.
Festival director Richard Moore said the Web 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 e-mails that I can only describe as being vile," Moore told the ABC. "It's part of a concerted campaign, and I think people who are behind it will try to ramp it up even more."
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," Daniels told the ABC.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry had no immediate response to Daniels' allegation, and a Chinese Embassy spokesman in Canberra was not immediately available for comment Sunday. Beijing has previously denied sponsoring or supporting computer attacks overseas.