China delays visa renewal for critical French journalist

New York, December 24, 2015–A French journalist based in Beijing told the Committee to Protect Journalists she may be forced to leave China by January 1 because her journalist visa has not been renewed.

Ursula Gauthier, a reporter for French newsmagazine L’Obs, told CPJ by email this morning that she had not received information from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs clarifying her immigration status. Press credentials are usually renewed on a yearly basis, in November or early December, for foreign correspondents based in China.

The delay in renewing Gauthier’s press credentials comes after she wrote a critical piece about the Chinese government’s attempts to draw an analogy between November’s terrorist attacks in Paris and severe unrest within the predominantly Islamic Uighur population in China’s far western Xinjiang province, according to news reports.

“There has been a steady decline in working conditions for international journalists in China in recent years. The abuse aimed at Ursula Gauthier makes it clear the government of President Xi Jinping is trying to force the same restrictions it has used to stifle its domestic media on the foreign media,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “We call on Beijing to renew Gauthier’s visa and to allow all journalists to work freely and safely in China.”

According to a November 29 statement by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China, Gauthier “has been the subject of two inflammatory editorials in the [state-run] Global Times, attacking her by name.” The statement added, “Thousands of aggressive and personal attacks on the reporter (including death threats) [were] posted in the comments section of their website.”

“This entire situation is not just about me and my work. It should be seen as the government’s forceful attempt to intimidate all the foreign correspondents working in China,” Gauthier told CPJ.

If the journalist visa is not renewed, Gauthier can start an appeal from outside the country.

In one recent expulsion of an international journalist, Al-Jazeera English reporter Melissa Chan was forced to leave China in May 2012. In 2015, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China reported that 10 journalists said they were threatened in 2014 with having visas cancelled or not renewed because of their work, though the visas were granted shortly before the deadline.