BEIJING—Al-Jazeera‘s sole English-language reporter in China has been expelled, the pan-Arab news network said on Tuesday. It’s the first time since 1998 that Beijing has kicked out an accredited foreign journalist.
Melissa Chan’s expulsion is seen as a hardening of China’s attitude toward international media it views as a threat to the authoritarian communist government’s authority and global image.
Qatar-based Al-Jazeera said in a statement that it had no choice but to close its English-language service’s bureau because Chan’s press credentials and visa were not extended. Chan is a US citizen who has been working for the network in China for five years.
Al-Jazeera said no permission to replace Chan was given and its requests for additional visas for correspondents had gone unanswered. The expulsion does not impact Al-Jazeera‘s Arabic-language service, which maintains several accredited journalists in its Beijing bureau.
Al-Jazeera did not say if any reason was given for expelling Chan. China’s Foreign Ministry, which oversees accreditation for international media, did not immediately respond to a request for information.
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China said Chinese officials accused Chan of unspecified violations and were unhappy with some of Al-Jazeera‘s coverage, particularly a documentary that Chan had not been involved in. The documentary, which aired in November, was about China’s system of sentencing minor criminals and political prisoners to labor camp prisons.
The club issued a statement Tuesday saying it was “appalled by the decision of the Chinese government to take this action.”
The director of news at Al-Jazeera English, Salah Negm, defended Chan and the network’s coverage.
“We constantly cover the voice of the voiceless and sometimes that calls for tough news coverage from anywhere in world. We hope China appreciates the integrity of our news coverage and our journalism,” Negm said in the network’s statement.
A German reporter and a Japanese reporter were the last foreign journalists expelled from China, in late 1998.
Chan has left China and will be returning to California, where she will be taking up a Knight Fellowship at Stanford University.