Al-Jazeera's sole English-language reporter in China has been expelled, the pan-Arab news network said yesterday, marking the first time since 1998 that Beijing has kicked out an accredited foreign journalist.
Melissa Chan's expulsion is seen as China's latest attempt to punish international media whose reports the authoritarian government dislike and see as besmirching its 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.
The Qatar-based Al-Jazeera said in a statement that it had no choice but to close its English-language service's bureau because Ms Chan's press credentials and visa were not extended.
Ms 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 Ms Chan was given and its requests for additional visas for correspondents had gone unanswered. The expulsion does not have an impact on Al-Jazeera's Arabic-language service, which maintains several accredited journalists in Beijing.
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 the blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng by entering the car park of the hospital where he is receiving medical care.
Al-Jazeera did not say if any reason was given for expelling Ms Chan. Hong Lei, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, refused to say why her accreditation was not renewed.
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