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Expelled French reporter flies out of China

Fred Dufour, AFP | French reporter Ursula Gauthier crosses the security gate at Beijing airport before flying back to France on December 31, 2015.

French reporter Ursula Gauthier flew out of Beijing airport early on Friday after Chinese authorities refused to renew her press credentials over her criticism of government policy in violence-wracked Xinjiang province.


Gauthier, a Beijing-based correspondent for French news magazine L'Obs, was told to issue a public apology for an article she wrote last month or China's foreign ministry would not renew her press credentials, which expired on December 31.

“A government spokesperson has accused me of supporting terrorism, and said that there is no place for me in China,” Gauthier told FRANCE 24 in an interview last week.

She is the first foreign correspondent in China to be forced out of the country since the 2012 expulsion of Melissa Chan, correspondent for the English-language service of Al Jazeera.

While the domestic media is subject to strict control and many topics are taboo, the foreign media is free to publish on any topic. However, foreign journalists frequently complain of harassment by the authorities while conducting routine reporting.

“Freedom of the press is in a pitiful state in China,” Gauthier told FRANCE 24. “The foreign press is muzzled when it comes to sensitive subjects.”

Xinjiang coverage

Gauthier's article in L'Obs triggered condemnation from Beijing and a virulent campaign in the state-run Global Times and China Daily.

She received thousands of insults and threats, including death threats, through comments on the People’s Daily website, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party. Her photo was published online.

Her essay, published on November 18 and entitled "After the attacks (on Paris), Chinese solidarity is not without ulterior motives", spoke of China's anti-terrorism policies in the country's western region of Xinjiang, homeland of the Muslim Uighur ethnic minority – many of whom complain of discrimination and controls on their culture and religion.

“In fact there is some terrorism (in Xinjiang), but there is also a situation where this minority is being subjected to discrimination and ethnic violence,” Gauthier told FRANCE 24.

Chinese authorities said they believed Gauthier's article offered justification for violence in the region that the government labels as "terrorism".

"The article criticised China's counter-terrorism efforts, and denigrated and slandered Chinese policies. It provoked the strong indignation of the Chinese public," Hua Chunying, a foreign ministry spokesperson, said at a regular press briefing in early December.

Beijing has slammed Western countries and news organisations for applying "double standards" on terrorism in the wake of the attacks in Paris, describing their condemnation of attacks in Xinjiang as "weak".

'Media lynching'

French officials, including France's ambassador to China, Maurice Gourdault-Montagne, asked Chinese authorities to reverse their decision, but to no avail.

Gauthier sent a letter of explanation to the Global Times in response to its campaign against her, but it went unanswered.

The Foreign Correspondents Club of China has said it is "deeply concerned with the attempts of intimidation" in Gauthier's case.

Reporters Without Borders also denounced the "media lynching" and "campaign of defamation and intimidation" against the French journalist.

Ursula Gauthier spent 10 years in China from 1979 to 1989 and studied at Peking University before being accredited to L'Obs in 2009.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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