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Al Jazeera closes Beijing bureau after reporter expelled

May 8, 2012 |  2:26 am

Al Jazeera is closing its Beijing bureau following the departure of its correspondent, Melissa Chan, a hard-hitting reporter who was effectively expelled from the country
BEIJING -- Al Jazeera is closing its Beijing bureau following the departure of its correspondent, Melissa Chan, a hard-hitting reporter who was effectively expelled from the country.

It marks the first time since 1998 that Beijing has forced out an accredited correspondent, and underscores the deterioration of the relationship between the Chinese Communist Party and the media.

Chan, who had tangled frequently with police to expose illegal jails and land confiscations, flew out of Beijing on Monday night after authorities refused to renew her visa.

At a media briefing Tuesday in Beijing, a Foreign Ministry spokesman deflected a barrage of questions about media freedom.

The Chinese government "welcomes foreign journalists to report objectively in China," said Hong Lei, who described the local reporting environment as "very open and free."

Chan declined to comment, but posted on Twitter, "Yes my press credentials have been revoked and I will no longer report f/China."       

"This is the most extreme example of a recent pattern of using journalist visas in an attempt to censor and intimidate foreign correspondents in China," the Beijing-based Foreign Correspondents Club of China said in a statement Tuesday, calling the government's action tantamount to expelling Chan.

The media association said the Chinese government was angered about a documentary that aired in November about the use of prisoners in forced-labor camps. Although Chan was not involved in that production, other reports since 2007 have also angered authorities.

Chan, 31, is from Walnut, Calif. Fluent in Mandarin, she would frequently tangle with police, sometimes brandishing a copy of Chinese statutes giving reporters the right to cover stories.

A frequent image in Chan's reports was a man's hand covering the lens of a camera as she held her ground and explained that the media had the right to cover the story. In March, she helped a distraught grandmother seeking a daughter who had been put in an illegal "black jail" for violating China’s one-child policy.

Chan had been working on temporary credentials since the end of the last year when the government refused what should have been a routine visa-renewal request. Replacement correspondents for Al Jazeera have not been approved, forcing the Qatar-based network to close its English-language service here. The Arabic service will not be affected, officials said.

Salah Negm, director of news at Al Jazeera English, said in a statement Monday: "We hope China appreciates the integrity of our news coverage and our journalism. We value this journalistic integrity in our coverage of all countries in the world. ... Al Jazeera Media Network will continue to work with the Chinese authorities in order to reopen our Beijing bureau."

Chan, who is a U.S. citizen, has been accepted into the Knight Fellowship at Stanford University and will return to Al Jazeera afterward, she said in a message on her Twitter account.

The last time China kicked out correspondents was in 1998, when both a Japanese correspondent and a German reporter were expelled in separate cases in which they were accused of obtaining secret documents.

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-- Barbara Demick and David Pierson

Photo: Al Jazeera correspondent Melissa Chan in Beijing.  Credit: EPA / Al Jazeera

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