India refuses to renew visas for three Chinese journalists

New York, July 25, 2016–Authorities in India have refused to renew the visas for three journalists from China’s state-owned Xinhua news agency. The bureau chief Wu Qiang, who is based in Delhi, and his Mumbai-based colleagues Lu Tang and She Yonggang were ordered to leave the country before their visas expire on July 31, according to reports. No official reason for the decision was given.

“The Indian government’s decision to effectively expel three Chinese journalists sets a dangerous precedent for press freedom worldwide,” said CPJ’s senior research associate for Asia, Sumit Galhotra. “Excluding journalists from the country that claims the mantle of the world’s largest democracy raises deep concerns, and we call on Indian authorities to provide an explanation.”

Indian, Chinese, and international news reports published a variety of conflicting reasons for why the visas were not renewed.

Several news outlets that reported on the journalists being expelled mentioned that it comes at a time of strained relations between New Delhi and Beijing following China’s opposition last month to India seeking to become a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Reports suggested the journalists were possibly either being expelled for security concerns over their alleged meeting with Tibetan activists in Bangalore, or because they had allegedly impersonated individuals to gain access to restricted government departments.

CPJ was not able to immediately contact the journalists for comment. A number listed for the Xinhua office number in Delhi is no longer in service and CPJ’s call to the headquarters in Beijing for comment went unanswered. CPJ called Vikas Swarup, the spokesperson for India’s Ministry of External Affairs, to request comment today, but the call went unanswered.

The Associated Press cited an unnamed Indian official as saying the journalists had received several visa extensions previously and that Xinhua was welcome to send replacements. The official, who the AP said was not authorized to speak about the case, declined to say why the visas were not being renewed.

The Hindu cited an unnamed source in the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs as saying that the journalists had recently visited Tibetan activists in the southern Indian city of Bangalore, which may have been cause for concern from authorities. The Indian Express reported allegations that the journalists were impersonating individuals to access restricted government departments.

An editorial in the Chinese state-run newspaper Global Times warned of “serious consequences” if the decision to expel the journalists was found to be in retaliation to China blocking India’s proposal to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group, Indian news accounts reported. The editorial was not accessible to CPJ at the time of publication. Membership to the group would allow India to expand its nuclear power generation and enter the export market, according to news reports.