BEIJING: The United States is “deeply concerned” about China’s treatment of foreign and domestic journalists, the US embassy said Friday, after Chinese authorities declined to renew the visa of BuzzFeed News’s Beijing bureau chief.
Megha Rajagopalan, who is American and had been in China for six years, was effectively forced out of the country after officials decided not to extend her journalist visa.
She has reported extensively on China’s security crackdown in the far-west region of Xinjiang, where hundreds of thousands of mostly Muslim ethnic Uighurs are believed to be held in internment camps.
“The United States is deeply concerned that foreign and domestic journalists in China continue to face excessive restrictions that impede their ability to do their jobs,” the US embassy said in a statement to AFP in response to questions about Rajagopalan’s case.
Reporters face “delays in processing foreign journalist visas, overboard restrictions on travel to certain locations deemed ‘sensitive’ by Chinese authorities and, in some cases, violence at the hands of local authorities”, it said.
Rajagopalan said on Twitter that the reasons for the government’s decision to deny her a visa extension remain unclear, with authorities telling her it was a “process thing”.
China’s foreign ministry played down the decision during a regular press briefing on Thursday, telling reporters that “this problem of a visa being ‘cancelled’ doesn’t exist”.
“She is not like you, she was never a resident journalist in China,” foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said, referring to the fact that Rajagopalan had worked in China on a six-month renewable visa rather than the one-year visa given to most journalists posted in the country.
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China said in a statement Wednesday that Rajagopalan had “conducted herself according to the highest journalistic standards while in China”.
The foreign ministry “declined to give a clear and transparent reason for denying her a visa”, it added, accusing authorities of “effectively ejecting” Rajagopalan from China.
But in an editorial about the government’s decision, nationalist tabloid the Global Times lashed out at Rajagopalan for what it described as “distorted reports” about the government’s treatment of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.
“Some Western media outlets believe they are entitled to do whatever they want, but such nonsense is unacceptable,” it said, adding that “relevant agencies in China are not going to step aside and do nothing when it comes to Western media’s treatment of China”.
It is not the first time that a foreign journalist has been denied a new visa.
Al-Jazeera reporter Melissa Chan had to leave China in 2012 after authorities refused to renew her visa.
At the end of 2015 French reporter Ursula Gauthier was forced to leave the country after she criticised government policy in Xinjiang and the authorities refused to renew her credentials.