News broadcaster Al Jazeera has closed its English language bureau in Beijing after its correspondent was expelled from the country. It is the first time China has kicked out an accredited foreign journalist since 1998.
Al Jazeera said it was temporarily forced to close the Beijing bureau of its English service on Tuesday after its sole English language reporter in the country was expelled.
The Qatar-based news broadcaster said they had "no choice" after the Chinese government repeatedly refused its visa requests for reporter Mellissa Chan. It said its applications for additional visas for other correspondents had also gone unanswered.
It is the first time China has expelled a foreign journalist since a German and a Japanese reporter were force out in 1998. China's foreign ministry, which oversees accreditation for international media, has not indicated the reason for her expulsion.
Chan is a US citizen who had worked as the bureau's China correspondent since 2007. She had reported extensively on sensitive topics, including the illegal seizure of farmland and the imprisonment of petitioners from the countryside in unofficial "black jails."
Tougher stance on journalists
Commentators have said her case indicates a hardening of China's attitude towards foreign media. It "marks a real deterioration in China's media environment and sends a message that international coverage is unwanted," Bob Dietz of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said on Tuesday.
Al Jazeera, meanwhile, has defended the networks reports from China. "I hope China appreciates the integrity of our news coverage and our journalism. We value this journalist integrity in our coverage of all countries in the world," Salah Negm, director of news at Al Jazeera English, wrote on the organization's website.
Al-Jazeera's Arabic-language service, which maintains several accredited journalists in its Beijing bureau, has not been affected by the closure of the English service.
ccp/ncy (AP, dpa)