RSF calls on Beijing to stop visa blackmail against foreign correspondents

The head of Buzzfeed News in China was forced on Wednesday to announce her departure from the country for lack of a new visa. RSF is calling on Beijing to stop using visa renewal as a tool of blackmail against foreign journalists.

Megha Rajagopalan, China bureau chief of BuzzFeed News and a former board member of Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC), was forced to announce on Wednesday, August 22 that she would not return to China, as her visa has been denied renewal this summer without official reason. According to Buzzfeed, she will continue her duties as a journalist from the Middle East, without further details.

The American journalist, who had been covering China for six years and running the Buzzfeed office since August 2016, received the Human Rights Press Award, a prize based in Hong Kong, on May 12th for her report on the persecution of the Uyghur minority in the Northwestern Chinese province of Xinjiang, where foreign journalists have very limited contact.

"The de facto deportation of Megha Rajagopalan adds to the list of abuses committed against foreign journalists whose work displeases the Chinese government,” said Cédric Alviani, director of the East Asia office of Reporters Without Borders ( RSF). "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.”

In its annual report published in February, the FCCC described the authorities' increasing relentlessness to interfere with the work of the foreign press, notably by threatening to discontinue visa renewal. In 2016, Swedish journalist Jojje Olsson had to leave China for the lack of a visa, as did Ursula Gauthier, the correspondent of French magazine L'Obs, in the previous year. In 2012, the New York Times and Al Jazeera were also affected by deportations of reporters, as was the Canadian daily Globe and Mail in 2009.

China ranks 176th out of 180 countries in the RSF World Press Freedom Index 2018 with more than 50 journalists jailed.

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Updated on 24.08.2018