The US Embassy in Beijing has said it is “deeply concerned” after Buzzfeed’s China bureau chief Megha Rajagopalan was denied a journalist visa and forced to leave the country, the Associated Press (AP) reported on Friday.
“The United States is deeply concerned that foreign and domestic journalists in China continue to face excessive restrictions that impede their ability to do their jobs,” the embassy said. They did not explicitly mention Rajagopalan.
In a series of tweets, Rajagopalan said on Wednesday that she had been forced to leave the country after her visa application was denied by authorities without explanation. Her coverage of Beijing’s crackdown on ethnic minorities in the predominantly Muslim Uyghur region of Xinjiang won a prize at the 2018 Human Rights Press Awards.
Rajagopalan added that she will continue to report on the region remotely from her new post in the Middle East.
AP’s report also said that Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang had dismissed claims that Rajagopalan’s visa was denied due to her coverage of Uyghurs in Xinjiang: “No matter what speculations you made, the context is wrong. It is not about her visa being cancelled. Unlike you, she is not a resident foreign correspondent in China,” Lu said.
Rajagopalan confirmed the news with HKFP after the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC) tweeted about her visa refusal on Wednesday.
The FCCC told HKFP: “Ms. Rajagopalan, a former FCCC board member who has conducted herself according to the highest journalistic standards while in China, says China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined to give a clear and transparent reason for denying her a visa. We find this extremely regrettable and unacceptable for a government that repeatedly insists it welcomes foreign media to cover the country.”
On Friday, press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urged Beijing “to stop using visa renewal as a tool of blackmail against foreign journalists.”
Cédric Alviani, director of the East Asia office said: “The de facto deportation of Megha Rajagopalan adds to the list of abuses committed against foreign journalists whose work displeases the Chinese government… Such conduct is exceptionally shocking as Beijing is taking advantage of the press freedom in democratic countries, which promote open circulation of information, in order to export its propaganda.”
It is bittersweet to leave Beijing after spending six wonderful and eye-opening years as a journalist there. In May, China's Foreign Ministry declined to issue me a new journalist visa. They say this is a process thing, we are not totally clear why.
— Megha Rajagopalan (@meghara) August 22, 2018
Chinese state-run tabloid the Global Times said in an editorial on Friday that it was the country’s right to decide whether to issue a visa to a foreign correspondent who has written “distorted reports” on Xinjiang. They added: “Western correspondents find it too easy to pick on the Eastern giant with a political system they cannot understand and confounds them, even more, when it becomes clear that China has achieved an economic miracle.”
Founded in 1993, the Global Times is a state-run tabloid under the Communist Party’s flagship paper the People’s Daily. The tabloid is known for its hard-line editorials. Some analysts say the paper does not necessarily represent Beijing’s official line.
China ranked 176 out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index, making it one of the most restrictive countries for foreign journalists to work in.