China Expels Al-Jazeera English Reporter

Posted May 8th, 2012 at 6:40 am (UTC-5)
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Al-Jazeera says it has been forced to close 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 television 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 Foreign Correspondent's Club of China 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.

During a spirited press briefing with foreign journalists Tuesday, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei gave no specific reason for Chan's expulsion. But he warned that foreign journalists must abide by the “relevant Chinese laws and regulations.”

“Foreign correspondents enjoy a very free reporting environment in China. Meanwhile, we stress that foreign correspondents must abide by Chinese law and regulations and journalistic ethics when reporting in China. We handled the media organization and its staff in question based on the law and regulations and performance of that person.”

Chinese officials had recently expressed displeasure with al-Jazeera's China coverage. In particular, authorities were reportedly angered by a November documentary highlighting oppressive Chinese prison labor camps – a work with which Chan was apparently not involved.

Al-Jazeera News Director Salah Negm defended the network's China coverage, saying it strives for objectivity. But he also stressed that 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 a once-in-a-decade leadership transition in China draws closer.

Chan has been strongly critical of reporting conditions in China and has documented several police attempts to stifle her reporting.

During one of her video reports in March dealing with secret Chinese detention centers, Chan was interrupted by police who ordered her to turn off the camera.

The Committee to Protect Journalists also says Chan has been subject to malware attacks by anonymous computer hackers.

Chan said on her Twitter page last month that she has accepted a journalism fellowship for the upcoming year at Stanford University in order to help journalists try to protect their computers against hackers.