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Al Jazeera closes English-language bureau in Beijing

Qatar-based broadcaster closes bureau after its reporter, Melissa Chan, became the first journalist expelled from China in 14 years.

BEIJING // Al Jazeera has been forced to close its English-language bureau in the Chinese capital after its reporter was expelled amid anger over a documentary the network aired.

The Qatar-based broadcaster's correspondent in Beijing, Melissa Chan, became the first journalist expelled from China in 14 years when she left this week after the authorities refused to renew her press accreditation.

According to the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China (FCCC), officials were angered by a programme on labour camps broadcast in November, although it was produced outside China, and were unhappy "with the general editorial content on Al Jazeera English".

Stephen McDonell, FCCC president, said journalists are puzzled why Chan was singled out.

"A lot of people do so-called 'tough stories' and light stories and sensitive stories and I just don't quite see what she's done to be kicked out," said McDonell, the China correspondent for the Australian ABC network.

He said while conditions for journalists in China improved in the run-up to the 2008 Olympics, they had deteriorated in the past two years.

Chan's expulsion was also criticised by Bob Dietz, Asia coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, who said it "seems to be taking China's anti-media policies to a new level".

Chan had reported from China for five years, covering controversial subjects such as China's "black jails", which are unofficial centres where petitioners are often detained."

Al Jazeera's Arabic-language bureau in Beijing continues to operate and the network has said it aims to reopen the English service.

"Just as China news services cover the world freely we would expect that same freedom in China for any Al Jazeera journalist," Salah Negm, Al Jazeera English's director of news, said.

Correspondents in China have reported increasing difficulties since early 2011, when many came under pressure for reporting on attempts to hold street protests inspired by the uprisings that swept the Middle East.

Several journalists had their press credentials temporarily confiscated last week for entering the hospital where Chen Guangcheng, a blind activist, was taken.

Juergen Kremb of the German magazine Der Spiegel and Yukihisa Nakatsu of the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun were the last journalists to be expelled from China, in 1998. Both were expelled for allegedly possessing state secrets.

dbardsley@thenational.ae

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