Saturday, December 26, 2015

China Says It Will Expel French Journalist

China Says It Will Expel French Journalist


HONG KONG — China’s Foreign Ministry said Saturday that a French journalist would be expelled from the country for writing an article about ethnic violence in China’s northwest, one that the government viewed as sympathetic to terrorism.

In her Nov. 18 article for the French newsweekly L’Obs, the reporter, Ursula Gauthier, discussed the terrorist attacks that had killed 130 people in Paris several days earlier, and she criticized the Chinese government’s attempt to link them to the intermittent violence in the Xinjiang region of China. She said the attacks in Xinjiang, often carried out by members of the Muslim Uighur minority, had “nothing in common” with the Paris killings and stemmed from China’s own hard-line policies toward the Uighurs.


In a statement on Saturday, Lu Kang, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, said that because Ms. Gauthier had failed to apologize for the article, “which incited the outrage of the Chinese people,” it was “not suitable for her to continue working in China.”

Photo

Ursula GauthierCreditL'Obs, via Associated Press

“China has consistently safeguarded the legal right of foreign news organizations and foreign correspondents to report in the country,” Mr. Lu said. “But it absolutely does not tolerate the freedom to embolden terrorism.”
Ms. Gauthier, who has reported from Beijing for L’Obs since 2009, said she had been told Friday that unless she apologized, she would have to leave China on Dec. 31, when her visa and accreditation expire.
“What can you say to such an absurd thing,” Ms. Gauthier said Saturday by telephone. “They are not indicting me, they are just expelling me and trashing my name. So it is only rhetoric, that’s all. They don’t believe a word of what they say.”
Hundreds of accredited foreign journalists live and work in Beijing and Shanghai, and it is rare for a reporter to be expelled from the country. Ms. Gauthier would be the first since Melissa Chan, an American citizen working for Al Jazeera’s English-language service, was forced to leave in 2012 after reporting on issues such as forced land seizuresand China’s illegal detention centers, known as “black jails.”
Ms. Gauthier’s case illustrates the sensitivity with which the government views coverage of Xinjiang, an area about the size of Alaska where Uighurs, an ethnic Turkic group, make up about 40 percent of the population. Some Uighurs have pushed for a separate state, frustrated by decades of settlement by China’s majority Han ethnic group, as well as restrictions on Uighurs’ movements and limits to their economic opportunities.
“Human rights organizations say the violence in Xinjiang is more a result of the radicalization of young people pushed to the limit by the pitiless repression that is wiping out all aspects of Uighur life – culture, language, religion, access to education, jobs, even a passport,” Ms. Gauthier wrote in her article.
Chinese citizens who publicly criticize the government’s policy toward the region risk imprisonment. Pu Zhiqiang, a prominent human rights lawyer who was given a suspended three-year jail sentence on Tuesday, had criticized the government’s assimilation policies in Xinjiang on social media. Ilham Tohti, a Beijing-based Uighur economist known for his efforts to promote Uighur rights within the Chinese system, was convicted of separatism in 2014 and sentenced to life in prison.
As a foreign reporter, Ms. Gauthier risked no such punishment. But her article was denounced in editorials in the state-owned news media and publicly rebuked by a government spokeswoman, and she was subjected to a torrent of online criticism that was often vulgar.
Her article focused on a deadly Sept. 18 knife attack on ethnic Han miners in a remote region of Xinjiang, in which more than 50 people may have been killed. China’s state-run news media did not report details of the attack, or the ensuing manhunt, until after the Paris attacks two months later, and the official reports depicted China’s battle against Xinjiang militants as part of a global struggle against terrorism. Before the Paris attacks, only foreign news organizations had written about the mine attack.
The state-owned China Daily, in a Nov. 23 editorial, said that Ms. Gauthier “did not show any sympathy for the victims of the terrorist attacks in China.”