BEIJING: Al-Jazeera's sole English-language reporter in China has been expelled, the pan-Arab news network said on Tuesday. It's the first time since 1998 that Beijing has kicked out an accredited foreign journalist.
Melissa Chan's expulsion is seen as a hardening of China's attitude toward international media it views as a threat to the authoritarian government's authority and global image. The move "seems to be taking China's anti-media policies to a new level," Bob Dietz, the Asia coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said in a statement.
Qatar-based Al-Jazeera said in a statement that it had no choice but to close its English-language service's bureau because Chan's press credentials and visa were not extended. Chan is a US citizen who worked for the network in China for five years. She had reported extensively on sensitive topics such as illegal seizures of farmland and the imprisonment of petitioners from the countryside in unofficial "black jails."
Al-Jazeera said no permission to replace Chan was given and its requests for additional visas for correspondents had gone unanswered. The expulsion does not impact Al-Jazeera's Arabic-language service, which maintains several accredited journalists in its Beijing bureau.
Foreign reporters in China often experience harassment, surveillance and visa problems when government officials are angry at their reports. Over the weekend, police called in about a dozen foreign reporters, threatening to revoke their visas for allegedly breaking rules in reporting the case of blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng.
Al-Jazeera did not say if any reason was given for expelling Chan, who was not among the journalists called in. China's Foreign Ministry, which oversees accreditation for international media, did not immediately respond to a request for information.
The Foreign Correspondents' Club of China said Chinese officials accused Chan of unspecified violations and were unhappy with some of Al-Jazeera's coverage, particularly a documentary that Chan had not been involved in. The documentary, which aired in November, was about China's system of sentencing minor criminals and political prisoners to labor camp prisons.
The club issued a statement Tuesday saying it was "appalled by the decision of the Chinese government to take this action."
A German reporter and a Japanese reporter were the last foreign journalists expelled from China, in late 1998.
Chan has left China and will be returning to California, where she will be taking up a Knight Fellowship at Stanford University.