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Chinese fans clash with rights protesters at basketball game in Australia

Chinese fans clashed with human rights protesters at a basketball game between China and Australia on Thursday in Melbourne, at a time when the two countries are trying to ease a number of policy disputes.

During the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) World Cup qualifier, activist Max Mok, a Hongkonger-Australian, was shoved by a Chinese fan as the activist shouted, “free East Turkestan,” a reference to Uyghurs in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and “Hong Kong independence” during the game. The incident was captured by a cell phone video and posted on social media.

Mok also was holding a sign demanding the release of Mirzat Taher, an Australian-Uyghur who was sentenced to 25 years in prison in China in April 2021. The sign showed a picture of Mirzat created by Chinese dissident artist and political cartoonist Badiuca, who is based in Australia.

Mirzat, a permanent resident of Australian, married Australian-born Mehray Mezensof of Melbourne in Xinjiang in August 2016. A year later, the couple was going to fly to Australia to live, but police detained Mirzat two days before their scheduled departure. Authorities have detained Mirzat two other times since then.

Australian political activist Drew Pavlou, who has spoken out against the Chinese government and Chinese Communist Party over their policies on Hongkongers, Tibetans and Uyghurs, attended the game and alleged that security guards dragged him down a flight of stairs, as captured on a cell phone image and posted on Twitter.

Security didn’t take any action against this violent attacker but they did drag me backwards down a flight of stairs for holding signs supporting Australian political prisoners in China and calling for an end to Uyghur Genocide,” Pavlou tweeted.

The United States and the legislatures of some Western countries have issued determinations that China’s maltreatment of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang constitutes a genocide and crimes against humanity. Beijing has angrily denied accusations of severe rights abuses in the region.

Another protester displayed the flag of Tibet, which is banned in China because it considers the western region to be part of the country.

Security personnel said they removed seven people involved in the incidents from the arena and that no one was physically hurt, according to local news reports.

More than 8,100 spectators were in attendance at John Cain Arena. The Australian team won the game 76-69 and is now 4-0 in its qualifiers.

The incident came about a week after Xiao Qian, who was appointed China’s ambassador to Australia in January, was hectored by human rights protesters during a speech about improving relations between Beijing and Canberra under the new Labor government of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

“The recent years our relationship has been a difficult period, nonetheless, China’s policy of friendship towards Australia remains unchanged,” Qian said during his speech at the Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology Sydney on June 24. “Looking into the future, China and Australia relations enjoy great potential for cooperation and bright prospects.” 

The human rights demonstrators interrupted the event several times to criticize Chinese government policies in Hong Kong, Tibet and Xinjiang. They were escorted from the event.