China Expels Al-Jazeera English Reporter, Forces Closure of Beijing Bureau

Posted May 7th, 2012 at 11:40 pm (UTC-5)
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Al-Jazeera says it has been forced to shut down its English language news operation in China after authorities refused to renew the media credentials and visa of its only correspondent in Beijing.

The Qatar-based network said Monday that it “had no other choice” than to close its Beijing bureau after China failed to renew the accreditation of Melissa Chan and would not allow another correspondent to replace her.

The network did not say if authorities gave any reason for expelling Chan, who had been its China reporter since 2007.

The Foreign Correspondent's Club of China on Tuesday said it was “appalled” by the decision, calling it an attempt to “censor and intimidate” foreign correspondents in China.

It is the first time since 1998 that China has expelled an accredited foreign journalist.

Chinese officials had recently expressed displeasure with al-Jazeera's China coverage. In particularly, authorities were reportedly angered by a November documentary highlighting oppressive Chinese prison labor camps.

Al-Jazeera News Director Salah Negm defended the network's China coverage, saying it strives for objectivity. But he also said its reporting “covers the voice of the voiceless” and that sometimes calls for “tough news coverage.”

The network says it will continue to employ several Arabic-language reporters in China. It is working with Beijing authorities to reopen its English bureau.

Chan, a U.S. citizen, is believed to be the first foreign reporter kicked out of China since a Japanese journalist was expelled in 1998 after being accused of obtaining state secrets.

Observers say Chinese authorities have increasingly restricted foreign journalists in recent months, as the date for a once-in-a-decade leadership transition in China draws closer.