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China faces scrutiny over Al Jazeera reporter
Beijing spokesman refuses to answer questions over refusal to renew Al Jazeera correspondent Melissa Chan's credentials.
Last Modified: 09 May 2012 10:10
Al Jazeera has expressed disappointment at the situation and says it will continue to request a presence in China

Chinese officials have refused to answer questions regarding the country's refusal to renew the press credentials and visa of an Al Jazeera English correspondent.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman on Tuesday rebuffed inquiries about the non-renewal of Melissa Chan's credentials at a regular press briefing, saying only that journalists must follow China's laws and regulations, according to an Associated Press report.

Fourteen out of 18 questions posed by journalists at the briefing concerned Chan, but spokesman Hong Lei refused to say what regulations she had violated.

All the questions about Chan, a US citizen, were missing from the official transcript later posted on the ministry's website.

Al Jazeera English is currently barred from reporting from mainland China and said on Tuesday it was closing its bureau in Beijing, where Chan had reported since 2007.

The US state department said it had followed Chan's case closely and was disappointed in the Chinese government's decision not to renew her accreditation.

"To our knowledge, she operated and reported in accordance with Chinese law, including regulations that permit foreign journalists to operate freely in China," Mark Toner, spokesman, said in Washington.

Chan, the first accredited foreign journalist to be expelled from China since 1998, had reported on topics such as illegal seizures of farmland and the imprisonment of petitioners from the countryside in unofficial "black jails".

Chan has left China and will be returning to California, where she will be taking up a fellowship at Stanford University.

Her departure "seems to be taking China's anti-media policies to a new level", Bob Dietz, the Asia co-ordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said in a statement.

The Foreign Correspondents' Club of China said Chinese officials accused Chan of unspecified violations and were unhappy with some of Al Jazeera's coverage, particularly a documentary that Chan had not been involved in.

Al Jazeera English said on Tuesday it would continue to request a presence in China, but said no permission to replace Chan had been given and its requests for additional visas for correspondents had gone unanswered.

Chan's departure does not impact Al Jazeera's Arabic-language service, which maintains several accredited journalists in its Beijing bureau.

Al Jazeera statement

In a statement, Salah Negm, director of news at Al Jazeera English said: "We've been doing a first class job at covering all stories in China.

"Our editorial DNA includes covering all stories from all sides. We constantly cover the voice of the voiceless and sometimes that calls for tough news coverage from anywhere in world.

"We 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.''

Foreign reporters in China often experience harassment, surveillance and visa problems when government officials are angry at their reports.

Over the weekend, police called in about a dozen foreign reporters, threatening to revoke their visas for allegedly breaking rules in reporting the case of blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng by entering the parking lot of the hospital where he is receiving medical care.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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