Al-Jazeera’s sole English-language reporter in China has been expelled, the pan-Arab news network said Tuesday.
This is the first time since 1998 that Beijing has kicked out an accredited foreign journalist.
Melissa Chan's expulsion is seen as China’s latest attempt to punish international media whose reports the authoritarian government dislikes and sees as besmirching its global image.
The move "seems to be taking China’s anti-media policies to a new level," Bob Dietz, the Asia coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said in a statement.
Qatar-based Al-Jazeera said in a statement that it had no choice but to close its English-language service's bureau because Chan’s press credentials and visa were not extended.
Chan is a US citizen who worked for the network in China for five years. She had reported extensively on sensitive topics such as illegal seizures of farmland and the imprisonment of petitioners from the countryside in unofficial "black jails."’
Al-Jazeera said no permission to replace Chan was given and its requests for additional visas for correspondents had gone unanswered.
The expulsion does not impact Al-Jazeera’s Arabic-language service, which maintains several accredited journalists in its Beijing bureau.
Foreign reporters in China often experience harassment, surveillance and visa problems when 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 being treated.
Hong Lei, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, refused at a regularly scheduled news conference Tuesday to say Chan’s accreditation was not renewed. "We stress that everybody must abide by Chinese laws and regulations and must abide by their professional ethics," Hong said.