By Tendar Tsering
Melissa Chan, Beijing based Al Jazeera correspondent in a file photo.
DHARAMSHALA, May 9: Al-Jazeera, the Qatar based news service, has been forced to close its English-language bureau in Beijing after its reporter was expelled.
China decided not to renew the press credentials and visa for Melissa Chan, al-Jazeera's China correspondent since 2007 while further refusing to allow a replacement.
Although the Chinese foreign ministry declined from saying why the reporter had been expelled, it is widely believed that Chinese officials were not happy with a documentary on labour camps in China that Al Jazeera had aired a few months back.
"We stress that everybody must abide by Chinese laws and regulations and must abide by their professional ethics," spokesman Hong Lei said, responding to repeated questions.
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China in a release yesterday strongly criticised Beijing for its censorship and intimidation of foreign correspondents.
“This is the most extreme example of a recent pattern of using journalist visas in an attempt to censor and intimidate foreign correspondents in China,” FCCC said.
While noting that the officials expelled Chan for violating rules and regulations that they have not specified, the FCCC said it views the incident as a “grave threat” to the foreign reporters’ ability to work in China.
Al Jazeera expressed its disappointment at Beijing’s actions and said it will continue to request a presence in China.
"We are committed to our coverage of China. Just as China’s news services cover the world freely we would expect that same freedom in China for any Al Jazeera journalist,” the news service said on its website.
Bob Dietz of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said Chan’s case, the first expulsion of a journalist since 1998, “marks a real deterioration in China’s media environment and sends a message that international coverage is unwanted.”
A survey by the FCCC last year had found that ninety-four percent of journalists who responded felt the work environment had deteriorated in China while seventy percent had experienced harassment or violence of some kind. A whopping 99% had said that reporting conditions in China do not meet international standards.
Earlier this year, Beijing based foreign reporters, who tried to enter the restive regions of western Tibet to cover the ongoing wave of self-immolations, were detained, kicked out of the region and threatened of visa cancellations.