Qatar-based satellite channel Al Jazeera has closed its English-language Beijing bureau after Chinese officials revoked its correspondent's visa and refused to allow a replacement journalist, the station said in a statement on Tuesday.
Melissa Chan, who has been Al Jazeera English's China correspondent since 2007, confirmed the decision informally via Twitter: "Yes my press credentials have been revoked and I will no longer report [from] China," wrote Chan, who has filed nearly 400 reports during her posting in Beijing.
While Chan has covered stories about the environment, social justice, labor rights, and human rights, some reports have said the decision has little to do with her output, and is more likely the result of an English-language documentary produced by Al Jazeera outside the country about China's system of labor camps.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said Chan's case is bad news for media freedom in China.
Bob Dietz, Asia program coordinator for the group, said the refusal to grant a visa renewal to Chan was the first expulsion of a journalist since 1998.
"[It] marks a real deterioration in China's media environment and sends a message that international coverage is unwanted," Dietz said in a statement on the CPJ website.
"Surveillance and harassment are the norm for reporters on the China beat, and authorities will often delay visa approval or threaten to revoke it as part of an overall strategy of intimidation. But effectively shuttering an international news outlet is a disturbing development," Dietz said
On Friday, Beijing's Public Security Bureau summoned at least a dozen reporters for working "without permission" in the part of Chaoyang Hospital where blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng was being treated, according to an email circulated to members by the Foreign Correspondents Club of China and quoted by CPJ.
At least two reporters had their press credentials seized, "hopefully just temporarily," for unauthorized reporting at the same site on Thursday, the CPJ quoted the Club as saying.
Al Jazeera said it would continue to request visas for its correspondent in the Chinese capital.
English news director Salah Negm said the station is still committed to its coverage of China.
"Just as China news services cover the world freely, we would expect that same freedom in China for any Al Jazeera journalist," he said. "Al Jazeera Media Network will continue to work with the Chinese authorities in order to reopen our Beijing bureau."
The network's Arabic-language bureau in Beijing is not affected by the expulsion.
Last year, China’s treatment of foreign reporters amid a crackdown on a series of “Jasmine” rallies in major cities drew strong criticism from press freedom groups and journalists' associations.
Foreign journalists reported being harassed and beaten by police when trying to cover the gatherings, which were sparsely attended, but inspired by popular uprisings in the Middle East.
Reported by Hai Nan for RFA's Cantonese service. Written in English by Luisetta Mudie.