The Korean Film Council (KOFIC) has sharply cut its funding for the Busan International Film Festival, the country’s premiere film event — and critics were quick to describe the cuts as politically motivated.

KOFIC said that it would reduce its funding by 45% from KRW1.46bn ($1.33m) to KRW800m ($733,000). It said that Busan had previously received nearly 40% of the organization’s annual budget, and that it would now increase funding for other film events such as the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival and the Jeonju festival, which wrapped its annual event last week.

“It is easy to suspect that KOFIC’s budget cut is a political retaliation because we tried to defend BIFF’s artistic freedom,” Busan festival organizers said in a statement sent to KOFIC and circulated to the media.

An industry committee formed some months ago issued a separate statement calling for a “halt to reprisals” against the festival.

The Busan festival has been mired in controversy since last October’s 19th edition. Festival organizers decided to go ahead with the screening of a documentary “The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol” (aka “Diving Bell”), which was critical of government rescue efforts after the deadly sinking of the Sewol passenger ferry in April 2014. The Busan city authorities said that the festival should remove the film from its lineup.

Since the festival, BIFF management has come under extreme pressure from city authorities, including open calls for the removal of festival director Lee Yong-kwan.

Lee has managed to stay on, but preparations for the festival’s 20th anniversary edition remain under a cloud.