Al-Jazeera office forced to shut

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 May, 2012, 12:00am


Al-Jazeera was forced to close its English-language bureau in Beijing after the authorities refused to renew its reporter's credentials, the Qatar-based satellite television network said yesterday.

Beijing's decision not to renew American-Chinese reporter Melissa Chan's press credentials and visa is the first such action against a foreign reporter since 1998.

Chan had worked for the network on the mainland for five years.

A source close to the matter said the network had wanted to meet government officials in Beijing to discuss the matter, but the Chinese embassy in Doha, Qatar, had not issued visas to Al-Jazeera's representatives.

The two sides eventually met in Doha late last month but that meeting did not go well.

The Foreign Correspondents' Club of China (FCCC) said Beijing had been angry about Al-Jazeera's screening in November of a documentary, Slavery: A 21st Century Evil, about the sentencing of political prisoners and members of religious groups to labour camp prisons.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued Chan a two-month press card in January, rather than the standard year's accreditation, then extended it for a month. Chan was obliged to leave the mainland on Monday because reporters are not issued residence permits without accreditation.

Chan was not available for comment yesterday but in a Twitter posting said: 'Yes my press credentials have been revoked and I will no longer report f/ China.'

The closure does not affect the network's Arabic-language bureau in Beijing, and a cameraman for the English channel will stay in Beijing.

The virtual expulsion of Chan comes at a tense time. Many overseas journalists were harassed after blind activist Chen Guangcheng entered Beijing's Chaoyang Hospital last week.

The FCCC said: '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.' Chan is a member of the FCCC board.

And a source said: 'The Chinese officials warned Al-Jazeera not to air the documentary, but they didn't listen. The network didn't even send a reporter to China for the documentary.'

Chan reported on the imprisonment of petitioners from the countryside in unofficial 'black jails' in March as the National People's Congress and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference held their annual sessions - traditionally a sensitive period in domestic politics.

The last severe action targeting foreign journalists was early last year, when security officers detained foreign journalists seeking to cover so-called jasmine rallies, an online call for demonstrations in sympathy with the so-called jasmine revolutions sweeping North Africa. A US journalist was severely beaten and treated in hospital. Others received warnings.

The FCCC said that over the past two years, 27 foreign reporters had to wait more than four months for visa approvals.

'In six cases, foreign reporters say they were told by the Foreign Ministry officials that their bureaus' visa applications had been rejected or put on hold due to the content of the bureaus' or the applicant's previous coverage of Chinese affairs,' it said.

Salah Negm, director of news at Al-Jazeera English, said: 'We constantly cover the voice of the voiceless and sometimes that calls for tough news coverage from anywhere in the world. We hope China appreciates the integrity of our news coverage and our journalism.'

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei refused to comment on the refusal to renew Chan's accreditation, but said: 'We stress that everybody must abide by Chinese laws and regulations and must abide by their professional ethics.'