China will expel a French journalist for writing an article that criticized the ruling Communist party’s policies in the ethnically riven northwestern area Xinjiang. It will be the country’s first expulsion of a foreign correspondent since 2012.
Ursula Gauthier, a Beijing correspondent for the Paris-based weekly L’Obs, said a representative from China’s foreign ministry told her that her press credentials would not be renewed for 2016 unless she publicly apologizes for the November article, which questioned Beijing’s insistence that violent attacks in the Xinjiang region are closely linked with global terrorism.
The denial of a correspondent’s press credentials — which are necessary for a visa renewal — amounts to a form of expulsion. Gauthier has refused to apologize, and plans to leave China before Friday, when her current press card expires.
China’s foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said in a written statement Saturday that Gauthier had voiced support for “terrorist activities” and so “is not suited to continue working in China.”
“I’m really angry. Really,” Gauthier said Saturday. “If it was true that I was supporting terrorism, they should indict me, not expel me; it’s a crime.”
She characterized the allegations against her as slander.
In 2012, Chinese authorities refused to extend press credentials for Melissa Chan, a journalist for Al-Jazeera, after she reported on sensitive topics such as illegal land seizures and the extralegal detention of petitioners.
Gauthier’s article, published on Nov. 18, after the Paris terrorist attacks — said “after the attacks, Chinese solidarity is not without ulterior motives.” It accused the Chinese government of stirring resentment in Xinjiang, the site of several recent violent clashes between ethnic Uighurs and majority Han Chinese. She wrote that a recent violent attack on a coal mine in the area was “probably in revenge for an abuse, an injustice or an expropriation.”
Authorities in Xinjiang maintain strict religious, political and cultural constraints over Uighurs — a predominantly Muslim, Turkic-speaking people — including heavy surveillance and bans on certain forms of Islamic dress. Beijing denies any repression in the region, and blames violent attacks on “terrorism” and “extremism” imported from abroad.
The region’s heavy security presence often precludes journalists from reaching the scenes of these attacks, making independent reporting nearly impossible.
Many other observers — including academics, activists and foreign correspondents — have argued that the region’s violent attacks are a result of heavy-handed government policies.
Gauthier said the government wants her to apologize for “hurting Chinese people’s feelings,” say that she does not “support terrorism,” and distance herself from “foreign (nongovernmental organizations) and media who presented my case as an infringement of press freedom in China.”
In November, after the article was published, the state-controlled Global Times and China Daily newspapers ran scathing editorials accusing Gauthier of “bias.”
“She forgets that people all over the world have the same right to protect themselves from being killed for no reason,” wrote the China Daily. “For her, it is evil to kill civilians in France, while it is ‘understandable’ to kill civilians in China. She uses a different yardstick when terrorists kill innocent civilians in China.”
Gauthier said her chief editor had written the Chinese Embassy in Paris and that she had written a letter in which she disputed the characterization of her article, to no avail.
“I wrote them a very long letter explaining that I never said those offending things that Global Times said that I said. I did the maximum I could do. I cannot say, ‘you were right, that I said I support terrorism.’ I cannot say that. They want me to say that publicly. How is it possible? They know it is not possible so there is no room for negotiation.”
Gauthier said she wasn’t sure why the editor of the Global Times and the Foreign Ministry had singled her out so forcefully. But she said that once the paper began its campaign against her, “it was already too late for the Foreign Ministry to back down. It was impossible to back down after that.”