French journalist ‘forced out of Beijing’ over reporting

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 December, 2015, 4:08am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 December, 2015, 1:02pm

A French journalist said she was prepared to leave the mainland and does not expect the authorities to renew her press credentials because of her reporting of Beijing’s efforts to equate ethnic violence in the western Muslim region with global terrorism.

Ursula Gauthier, a veteran journalist for French news magazine L’Obs, said late on Friday that the Foreign Ministry demanded she issue a public apology and distance herself from any group that should present her case as infringement of press freedom.

Left with no room for negotiations, she said she planned to leave on December 31 when her visa expires. “They want a public apology for things that I have not written,” Gauthier said. “They are accusing me of writing things that I have not written.”

The fallout began with an article Gauthier wrote on November 18, shortly after the attacks in Paris. She said that Beijing’s proclaimed solidarity with Paris was not without ulterior motives as Beijing sought international support for its assertion that ethnic violence in Xinjiang (新疆) was part of global terrorism.

Watch: China expels French reporter in first such case since 2012

Gauthier wrote that some of the violent attacks in Xinjiang appeared to be home-grown with no evidence of foreign ties, an observation that has been made by many foreign experts on security and Xinjiang’s ethnic policies.

Advocacy groups have argued that the violence was more likely to be a response to Beijing’s suppressive policies in Xinjiang.

Gauthier focused in her article on a deadly mine attack in a remote region of Xinjiang, which she described as more likely an act by Uygurs against mine workers of the majority Han ethnic group over what the ethnic minority group perceived as mistreatment, injustice and exploitation.

The article quickly drew stern criticism from state media and the government in Beijing.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs criticised Western media for using double standards in reporting on the violence and said terrorism should not be considered ethnic violence in Xinjiang.

“Why is terrorism in other countries called terrorist actions, but it turns out to be ethnic and religious issues in China?” ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying (華春瑩) said at a regular news briefing on December 2.

By then, state media had carried abusive editorials against Gauthier, accusing her of deep prejudice against China. Gauthier on Friday said the Foreign Ministry demanded her to apologies for “hurting Chinese people’s feelings with wrong and hateful actions and words”, and to publicly state that she recognised that there have been terrorist attacks in and outside Xinjiang.

She said she could not comply and would not distance herself from support groups. “[They are just trying to show] foreign correspondents here what happens if you write what is not palatable to Chinese authorities,” she said.

If Gauthier’s credentials are not renewed by the end of year, she will become the first foreign journalist to be expelled from China since US journalist Melissa Chan, then working at Al Jazeera in Beijing, was expelled in 2012.