China pillories, set to expel French journalist

Ursula Gauthier, a Beijing-based correspondent for French news magazine L’Obs. (Photo courtesy: AFP)
Ursula Gauthier, a Beijing-based correspondent for French news magazine L’Obs. (Photo courtesy: AFP)

(, Dec27, 2015) – China has effectively expelled a French journalist for refusing to apologise for an article on its policy on terrorism in Xinjiang in the context of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, reported AFP Dec 26. The journalist, Ursula Gauthier, a Beijing-based correspondent for French news magazine L’Obs, has said her treatment is “a pretext to intimidate foreign correspondents in China, particularly on issues concerning minorities, especially in Tibet and Xinjiang.”

China’s foreign ministry has refused to renew her press credentials, which is set to expire at the end of this month. “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,” Gauthier has told AFP.

The Chinese government’s move was met with widespread criticism from the French foreign ministry, press watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and Gauthier’s employer.

Gauthier will 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. The latter too earned her expulsion for her news coverage of China.

The report noted that Gauthier’s article in L’Obs had 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 also published online.

Gauthier’s article in L’Obs was titled as “After the attacks (on Paris), Chinese solidarity is not without ulterior motives”. It spoke about China’s anti-terrorism policies in Xinjiang, homeland of the Muslim Uighur ethnic minority, many of whom complain of discrimination and controls on their culture and religion.

“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. The ministry had twice summoned Gauthier to press her on the issue.

Gauthier has rejected China’s criticisms, saying, “If I had actually written what they accuse me of, I deserve to be put in prison, not expelled.”

The report said French officials, including France’s ambassador to China, Maurice Gourdault-Montagne, had asked Chinese authorities to reverse their decision, but so far to no avail.

RSF Secretary General Christophe Deloire has said the move was a sign of Beijing’s desire to “rein in foreign journalists like Chinese reporters”. “Hate campaigns, death threats, blackmail in exchange for apologies, administrative hurdles – this is how the press is treated in China,” he was quoted as having written on his Facebook page.

Ursula Gauthier has spent 10 years in China, from 1979 to 1989, and studied at Peking University before being accredited to L’Obs in 2009.


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