Chan, a 31-year-old from California, had reported from Beijing for al-Jazeera since 2007. She left Beijing on Monday on a flight to Los Angeles.
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China, or FCCC, protested the expulsion, describing it as “the most extreme example of a recent pattern of using journalist visas in an attempt to censor and intimidate foreign correspondents.” An FCCC statement said that “foreign news organizations, not the Chinese government, have the right to choose who works for them in China, in line with international standards.”
The incident marked China’s first expulsion of a foreign journalist in 14 years, although many have been threatened with expulsion and others have had long delays getting visas approved. Most recently, police in Beijing last week threatened to revoke the visas of a dozen foreign reporters for trying to enter the hospital where blind activist Chen Guangcheng is confined.
China’s Foreign Ministry gave no specific reason for Chan’s expulsion. Hong Lei, a ministry spokesman, said in a regular briefing Tuesday: “We welcome foreign journalists to come to China to do objective interviews and reporting, and we also offer lots of assistance and convenience to foreign journalists. The interviewing environment that foreign journalists enjoy in China is very free.
“Foreign journalists in China must abide by the relevant laws and regulations, and they must abide by the code of conduct for journalists,” Hong said. He did not indicate what rule Chan may have violated.
The tightening of controls on journalists began in earnest last year at the start of the Arab Spring uprisings, when anonymous Internet messages, thought to have originated from dissident Chinese Web sites overseas, called for copycat “Jasmine revolution” rallies in Chinese cities. The calls went unanswered but led to a major mobilization by Chinese security forces and repeated clashes between police and foreign journalists. Reporters were summoned to the offices of the Beijing police and told that they must have prior approval to report virtually anywhere and to talk to any Chinese citizen.
In February 2011, Chan reported on what she described as China’s “imaginary revolution.” She also investigated China’s “black jails,” a network of secret detention centers. But she played no role in an al-Jazeera documentary about prison labor that prompted protests by Chinese officials.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the United States was disappointed in Beijing’s decision not to renew Chan’s visa. “To our knowledge, she operated and reported in accordance with Chinese law, including regulations that permit foreign journalists to operate freely in China,” he said.