The BBC released a statement on Wednesday saying John Sudworth had been relocated to Taiwan but will continue as the corporation’s China correspondent.
“John’s work has exposed truth the Chinese authorities did not want the world to know,” BBC News said. “The BBC is proud of John’s award-winning reporting during his time in Beijing and he remains our China correspondent.”
The Chinese Foreign Ministry called the BBC journalist’s departure “abnormal” while state media pushed back saying he is in hiding because of fears of action over “biased coverage”.
China has a history of clamping down on journalists and activists whose coverage is not in line with government policies. It expelled 18 foreign reporters last year after criticism mounted over the origin of the coronavirus.
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Mr Sudworth was the BBC’s China correspondent for the last nine years and had been extensively covering reports on alleged abuse of Uighur Muslims and the spread of coronavirus. He won a George Polk Award last year for his reporting on internment camps in the Xinjiang region.
China banned the BBC from broadcasting in the country in February citing “relentless fabrication of ‘lies of the century’ in reporting”. China’s ban was in retaliation to the UK’s revocation of the Chinese state-backed broadcaster CGTN’s license.
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC) issued a statement, saying Mr Sudworth left on short notice amid “concerns for his safety and that of his family” and his “abuse” is part of the larger issue of harassment and intimidation of journalists.
“Sudworth left after months of personal attacks and disinformation targeting him and his BBC colleagues, disseminated by both Chinese state media and Chinese government officials,” the FCCC said.
“Abuse of Sudworth and his colleagues at the BBC form part of a larger pattern of harassment and intimidation that obstructs the work of foreign correspondents in China and exposes their Chinese news assistants to growing pressure,” it added.
In 2020 alone, China expelled foreign journalists from The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post, according to a report by the FCCC.
The Communist Party-backed Global Times published an article on Wednesday that blamed Mr Sudworth for running a “smear” campaign over coronavirus and Xinjiang policy. It claimed he left for Taiwan in an attempt to escape prosecution over fake news.
“However, no matter where he flees to and in what capacity he reports on China, as long as he continues to adhere to ideological bias and continues to churn out false news to attack and smear China, he will not be able to escape righteous condemnation,” the report said citing unnamed observers.
Taiwan foreign ministry said it welcomes all reporters from media outlets while they “enjoy freedom of the press and speech”, reported Reuters.
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