French journalist says China to expel her

Ursula Gauthier, the Beijing-based correspondent for French news magazine L'Obs, said Beijing has refused to renew her press credentials unless she apologises for one of her stories.

A file picture of Ursula Gauthier who would be the first correspondent to be expelled from China since 2012.
A file picture of Ursula Gauthier who would be the first correspondent to be expelled from China since 2012. AFP PHOTO ERIC FEFERBERG

Speaking to the news agency AFP, Gauthier said she has been told by Chinese officials to issue a public apology for an article she wrote last month or China's foreign ministry will not renew her press credentials, set to expire on December 31.

"They confirmed that if I did not make a public apology on all the points that had 'hurt the Chinese people' ... my press card would not be renewed and I would have to leave on December 31," she said.

Gauthier would be the first foreign correspondent in China to be expelled since the 2012 expulsion of Melissa Chan, correspondent for the English-language service of Al Jazeera.

Her article in L'Obs triggered condemnation from Beijing and a virulent campaign in the state-run Global Times and China Daily, as well as thousands of often violent and abusive comments from Chinese Internet users. Her photo was published online.

Entitled "After the attacks (on Paris), Chinese solidarity is not without ulterior motives", her essay spoke of China's anti-terrorism policies in the country's western region of Xinjiang, homeland of the Muslim Uighur ethnic minority -- many of whom complain of discrimination and controls on their culture and religion.

Chinese authorities said they believed Gauthier's article offered justification for violence in the region that the government labels as "terrorism".

"The article criticised China's counter-terrorism efforts, and denigrated and slandered Chinese policies. It provoked the strong indignation of the Chinese public," Hua Chunying, a foreign ministry spokesperson, said at a regular press briefing in early December.

Gauthier was summoned twice to China's foreign ministry, which issues press credentials to foreign journalists, before Friday's phone call. If her press card is not renewed, Gauthier cannot apply for a new visa, forcing her to leave China.

"If I had actually written what they accuse me of, I deserve to be put in prison, not expelled," Gauthier said.

Her treatment is "a pretext to intimidate foreign correspondents in China, particularly on issues concerning minorities, especially in Tibet and Xinjiang," she added.

French officials, including France's ambassador to China, Maurice Gourdault-Montagne, have asked Chinese authorities to reverse their decision, but to no avail.

The Foreign Correspondents Club of China said it is "deeply concerned with the attempts of intimidation" in Gauthier's case.

Reporters Without Borders also denounced the "media lynching" and "campaign of defamation and intimidation" against the French journalist.

- with AFP

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