EU Accuses China of Harassing Foreign Journalists

After two more foreign correspondents were forced to leave China, the European Union has accused Beijing of harassing foreign journalists and urged the country to ensure the freedom of speech and media.

John SudworthJohn Sudworth (Photo: BBC video, screenshot)BBC’s award-winning China correspondent, John Sudworth, and his partner and RTÉ News, Yvonne Murray, left the country last week amid growing intimidation from the government in Beijing, the Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC) said.  

Chinese officials intensified their campaign against Sudworth after his reports on the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic and the government’s persecution of the Muslim Uighur minority and the couple left at short notice amid concerns over their family's safety, the FCCC said.

“This is the latest case of foreign correspondents being driven out of China as a result of continuous harassment and obstruction to their work, coming on top of the expulsion of at least 18 correspondents last year, a statement from the EU Foreign Affairs Ministry said on Friday.

“The EU calls upon China to abide by its obligations under national and international law and ensure the freedom of speech and press, as enshrined in the PRC’s Constitution and the Universal declaration of human rights,” it said.

Sudworth and Murray's forced departures follow Beijing’s growing efforts to frustrate the work of foreign correspondents. According to the FCCC, the expulsion of at least 18 foreign journalists last year was the largest since the Tiananmen Square aftermath.

The club reported that Chinese state media and officials disseminated attacks and disinformation targeting Sudworth and his BBC colleagues and that these attacks escalated after the United Kingdom’s regulator revoked the licence of Chinese broadcaster CGTN, saying the channel violated local rules. 

The FCCC also warned of other tactics implemented by Chinese officials to impose censorship, such as weaponizing visas or saying that foreign intelligence services paid actors to pose as sources. 

“Authorities have used restricted-term visas for other media to punish journalists whose reporting they dislike. At least 13 correspondents received press credentials valid for six months or less, including as short as one month. Resident journalist visas are typically one year in length,” the FCCC said in their 2020 annual report.

Some correspondents also told FCCC cybercriminals targeted their internet accounts in attempted hacks last year and that the government used COVID-19 restrictions to interfere with reporting. 

A Foreign Ministry spokeswoman lashed out at the FCCC Thursday, calling it an “illegal organization.” 

“Fewer than half of foreign correspondents in China are members of the FCCC, and most of them are Western journalists from the U.S. and Europe,” the spokeswoman said at a press briefing in Beijing. “Foreign journalists in China should feel lucky.”