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China expels French journalist for terrorism coverage

Ursula Gauthier has been working in China for the French newsmagazine L’Obs. (L'Obs via AP)

BEIJING — China didn't like Ursula Gauthier's reporting — so it is kicking her out of the country.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a written statement Saturday that the Beijing correspondent for French news magazine L’Obs would not be issued press credentials for 2016, effectively expelling her.

Gauthier drew Beijing's ire by writing an essay that questioned the Chinese government's rhetoric on terrorism.

In the statement, Lu Kang, a spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry, said Gauthier was no longer "suitable" for her job in China and that her reporting "emboldened" terrorists.

Gauthier is the first foreign journalist to be booted from China since 2012, when Al Jazeera's Melissa Chan was forced to leave after doing a series of stories on secret prisons. Journalists for the New York Times and Bloomberg News were also denied visas after publishing prize-winning stories about the wealth of China's top leaders and their families. (Both news organizations have since been issued new visas.)

The Foreign Correspondents Club of China, the Committee to Protect Journalists and the French Embassy in Beijing have all expressed concern about the case.

Gauthier, a veteran journalist, has been in Beijing's crosshairs since November, when she wrote an essay about China's response to the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris.

The piece suggested Beijing's expression of solidarity post-Paris attacks had "ulterior motives," namely a desire to get the international support for its claim that violence in China's Xinjing Uighur Autonomous Region is linked to a global war on terrorism.

Beijing maintains that violent unrest in Xinjiang is linked to international terrorist groups and often accuses foreign governments — and foreign reporters — of having a "double standard" on terrorism.

Many foreign scholars and rights groups say that what's happening in China's far northwest is less about global jihad than China's suppression of its Uighur population.

In the immediate aftermath of the Paris attacks, Chinese officials released details about a deadly attack at a coal mine in Xinjiang. China called it a coordinated terrorist attack; Gauthier's report suggested otherwise. What happened in Paris and what happened at the coal mine attacked had "nothing in common," she wrote.

The incident in Xinjiang was "an explosion of local rage," Gauthier said. "Pushed to the limit, a small group of Uighurs armed with cleavers set upon a coal mine and its Han Chinese workers, probably in revenge for an abuse, an injustice or an expropriation."

Soon after the piece was published, Gauthier was attacked in a series of stories in China's tightly controlled state-backed news media. Commenters published her photograph and address online and threatened her with violence.

The Foreign Ministry later blasted Gauthier for "hurting Chinese people's feelings with wrong and hateful actions and words." She was urged to recant and apologize; Gauthier refused.

"They want a public apology for things that I have not written," she told the Associated Press.  "They are accusing me of writing things that I have not written."

Gu Jinglu reported from Beijing. 

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