(TibetanReview.net, Jan03’16) – China has accused French journalist Ursula Gauthier of supporting terrorism because she questioned its comparing of the global Islamist violence with the unrest in the homeland of the Uighur ethnic minority after the Nov 13 Paris attacks as its official Xinhua news agency Jan 1 reported on her departure from Beijing. In her story for the French news magazine L’Obs, Gauthier had questioned China’s motives in expressing sympathy for the victims of the Paris attacks, writing that they were calculated to tie Beijing’s harsh policies in Xinjiang into the fight against global terrorism.
Trashing China’s accusation, she has told the AFP, “I didn’t write that I supported terrorism, I never supported terrorism in my article.”
Gautheir, who has spent six years reporting from China, has suggested that violence by Uighurs against civilians in the region – where clashes have killed hundreds in recent years – was in part driven by resentment of government policies. “I was simply explaining that the Uighurs’ anger came from somewhere, just like we can explain the origin of the anger of young Arabs who become radicalised, there are roots to it,” she has added.
China repeatedly attacked her for her story, insisting that her reasoning for the violence in Xinjiang amounted to supporting terrorism and demanding that she apologize. It then refused to renew her press credentials, thereby obliging her to leave China on Dec 31 when her visa expired.
Gauthier has called her expulsion a dark foreboding for journalists in China, and something which could happen to anyone over anything else. She has added, while preparing to leave Beijing, that France and Europe should be “concerned about what is going on here, not because it is a journalist, not only because of the freedom of press, but also because it is about China and what China is doing to its minorities, and even its majority, the problem is the same.”
She sees the way the Chinese government has treated her as an attempt “to intimidate foreign correspondents in China, particularly on issues concerning minorities, especially in Tibet and Xinjiang”.
China’s foreign ministry said she “flagrantly championed acts of terrorism… triggering the Chinese people’s outrage”. Her address was posted online alongside death threats from angry readers.
France called China’s action “regrettable” and has said it had reached out to Beijing several times to get it to reconsider its stance. But Le Monde newspaper, in an article signed by editors and reporters from multiple French media, said the expulsion was “unjustifiable”, and called on the French government to make a stronger protest.
Two French diplomats were reported to have accompanied Gauthier through the airport check-in and immigration before her scheduled flight departed. A small police presence, both uniformed and in civilian dress, stood outside the check-in areas observing journalists reporting on her departure, reported globalpost.com Jan 1.
Britain’s theguardian.com said in an editorial Jan 1 that Gauthier’s expulsion was an intimidatory tactic aimed at discouraging all independent, critical coverage by foreign media organizations. “And it sends a message that foreign journalists should think twice before contradicting the official Chinese line.”
It called on Western governments to protest publicly and explicitly against such pressures, whatever their commercial or economic interests. It criticized France for only expressing “regrets” and even failing to name China or to criticize it while stressing in a statement “the importance of journalists being able to work everywhere in the world”.