Al Jazeera closes bureau after Chinese authorities refused to renew correspondent's visa
Al Jazeera has closed the China bureau for its English channel after Chinese authorities refused to renew its correspondent's visa, marking the first such expulsion of an accredited foreign correspondent in over a decade.
Melissa Chan had reported from Beijing for Al Jazeera's English language channel since 2007, as well as maintaining a Twitter feed with over 14,000 followers.
China's foreign ministry was not immediately available for comment, and Chan also said she had no comment.
The Foreign Correspondents' Club of China (FCCC) said the Chinese authorities' decision to allow Chan's accreditation to lapse came after they expressed dissatisfaction about some of Al Jazeera's content, including a documentary produced overseas.
Chinese authorities also said that Chan, a U.S. citizen, had violated unspecified rules and regulations, the FCCC said.
"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," it said. Chan was a member of the FCCC board.
China has tightened restrictions on foreign journalists over the past year over concerns that protests sweeping North Africa and the Middle East could also find a foothold in China.
Al Jazeera has produced a number of critical programmes about China in recent years, including one examining the alleged use of prison labour to make products sold in Western markets.
The Qatar-based news broadcaster said it would continue to cover China and hoped to work with Beijing for reopening of the bureau.
"We are committed to our coverage of China. Just as China news services cover the world freely, we would expect that same freedom in China for any Al Jazeera journalist," the channel said in an emailed statement.
Al Jazeera's Arabic language channel will continue to have a correspondent in Beijing. The broadcaster has been applying for more than a year for additional reporting positions in Beijing but has not been granted accreditation.
In 1998, China expelled a Japanese and a German journalist, both accredited, in unrelated cases for allegedly possessing state secrets. In 1995, authorities did not renew a German reporter's accreditation, citing "aggressive, biased" reporting.
Foreign reporters without accreditation to report in China have been expelled more recently.
In a more unusual case, Ching Cheong, a journalist with Hong Kong citizenship working for the Singapore's Straits Times, was jailed from 2005-2008 on charges of spying for Taiwan.
China requires all foreign journalists to renew their accreditation annually, while other business visas are typically multiple-year visas, and has on occasion used the renewal period to threaten journalists with expulsion for their coverage.
Some news organizations have waited for months to get new accreditations processed. There are about 700 overseas or Hong Kong journalists working in Beijing.