Al Jazeera, the independent satellite broadcaster owned by the state of Qatar, was forced to close its bureau in China on Monday after the authorities refused to renew their correspondent, Melissa Chan, her press credentials, the New York Times reported.
According to other broadcasts and officials quoted by the New York Times, the decision was triggered by an English-language documentary on Chinese re-education through labor camps that Al Jazeera produced outside China and broadcast on its network in November.
Labor camps are a simplified detention facility where inmates are forced to engage in penal labor. Hundreds - if not thousands - of labor camps and forced-labor prisons still exist in China, housing political prisoners and dissidents alongside dangerous criminals.
The documentary in question compared labor camps to a form of slavery.
The Beijing-based Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China told the NYT that Al Jazeera’s correspondent did not take part in the documentary and Chinese authorities did not offer any explanations for refusing to renew her press credentials.
“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 NYT quoted the group. “The F.C.C.C. believes that foreign news organizations, not the Chinese government, have the right to choose who works for them in China, in line with international standards.”
The channel expressed its disappointment at the situation and said it is continuing to request a presence in China.
It has been requesting additional visas for correspondents for some time through the normal procedures but these have not been issued.
Melissa Chan has been Al Jazeera English's China correspondent since 2007. During her five years in the country, she has filed nearly 400 reports about the economy, domestic politics, foreign policy, the environment, social justice, labour rights and human rights.
This decision comes as Chinese authorities continue trying to control the flow of information in the country. The last time Chinese authorities expelled a correspondent was in 1998. Yukihisa Nakatsu, a correspondent with Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, was forced to leave the country on the charge of “obtaining state secrets.”