The critically acclaimed film of gay cowboys, Brokeback Mountain has been banned by Chinese censors because they object to its homosexual content.

The film is directed by Taiwanese director Ang Lee, who was the director of Oscar-winning film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

The national Xinhua News Agency claims that the “sensitive topic” of homosexuality has meant that the film is unsuitable for release within the communist country.

Membership of the World Trade Organisation requires China to screen at least twenty foreign films each year.

Last month, Chinese police officials shut down the opening of a gay and lesbian cultural arts festival on Friday, an action participants claimed highlights deep-rooted intolerance toward homosexuality in the socially conservative country.

The festival was to be a weekend of films, plays, exhibitions and seminars on the issue of homosexuality, but police raided the opening reception on Friday night and participants said they were still negotiating on whether any of the events could go ahead.

Official figures estimate at least 40 million gay men and women in China, but human rights groups argue that the true gay population may be at over 80 million.