Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Al-Jazeera shuts Beijing office as reporter Melissa Chan is expelled

Al-Jazeera correspondent Melissa Chan has been expelled from China forcing the news channel to shut down its Beijing bureau. Authorities refused to renew her press accreditation and visa, forcing the correspondent out of the country. China also refused to allow the broadcaster to send a replacement journalist.

No reason given

No reason was given for the refusal to renew Chan's papers, but there are suggestions it may be in retaliation to a documentary aired in November 2011 which highlighted forced labour in Chinese prisons.

Chan was not involved in the making of the film though as a correspondent for Al-Jazeera since 2007 she has filed some 400 stories covering sensitive issues concerning domestic politics, foreign policy, the environment, social justice, labour rights and human rights.


Her expulsion is seen as a warning to other journalists not step over the line and to generally intimidate foreign media operating in the country. In recent days China has been on edge with the reporting of the plight of Chen Guangcheng, the blind Chinese dissident who fled to the US Embassy and has recently been holed up at the Chaoyang Hospital. While several news crews were allowed to set up opposite the entrance to the hospital, there have been strict warnings given by police that any media stepping beyond the cordons would have their visa revoked. In a report aired by CNN's Stan Grant over the weekend, he explained that the authorities were being very officious in their handling of reporters near the hospital. It is not known if Chan fell foul of authorities concerning her reporting of the Chen Guangcheng story or if China had been looking to expel her for sometime.


The Foreign Correspondents' Club of China (FCCC) said it was "appalled" by the decision which was likely motivated by a general feeling of distrust concerning the news channel. "Chinese officials had expressed anger at a documentary the channel aired last November. Melissa Chan did not even play a part in making that documentary," the FCCC said in a statement. "They have also expressed unhappiness with the general editorial content on Al-Jazeera English and accused Ms Chan of violating rules and regulations that they have not specified."

Chan tweets

Chan had not been seen on the news channel for several days prior to today's news release and had apparently been taking time off for study. She was recently accepted as a Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford for the 2012-13 academic year, though it was not immediately clear how this would have impacted her work at Al-Jazeera. Her 5 day silence on Twitter was broken after she confirmed the news of her expulsion. "Yes my press credentials have been revoked and I will no longer report f/ China," she tweeted.


The Qatar-based news broadcaster said it would continue to cover China and hoped to work with Beijing in an attempt to reopen the bureau. "We are committed to our coverage of China. Just as China news services cover the world freely, we would expect that same freedom in China for any Al Jazeera journalist," the channel said.

Previous cases

Chan's expulsion is the first such case of a foreign journalist being barred for some 14 years. In 1998 Der Spiegel's correspondent Juergen Kremb was expelled for allegedly being in possession of state secrets [BBC]. Kremb denied the allegations. That same year Yukihisa Nakatsu, a reporter for Japan's Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, was also denied the right to report from within China after being accused of obtaining state secrets, allegedly stemming from his contacts with a Chinese economic journalist arrested earlier by police.

The news of Al-Jazeera being forced to close its Beijing bureau was not reported in China itself. Searches on Baidu and Panguso, two of China's major search engines, also failed to return any relevant results.

[Further reports: BBC / CNN / Al-Jazeera / France24 / Guardian / Reuters / NYT / Globe & Mail / Washington Post]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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