Posts tagged: foreign journalists

Forced Departure of American Journalist Megha Rajagopalan – Is it Really Not About Xinjiang?

By , September 9, 2018

***Correction – After this post was published, a reader with experience on Chinese visa issues informed China Law & Policy that it isn’t always that a news outlet cannot establish a permanent office because of economic costs or means, but also because the Chinese government will not allow certain news outlets to establish a permanent office, thus preventing those reporters the ability to obtain the J-1 visa.  We have corrected the post to reflect this important difference and thank the person who informed us.  EML, Sept. 10, 2018***

Buzzfeed’s Former Beijing Bureau Chief, Megha Rajagopalan

Every three years, the Chinese government has effectively expelled a foreign journalist from China.  It started with Melissa Chan, an American journalist working for Al Jazeera, in 2012.  In 2015, it was Ursula Gauthier, a French journalist for L’Obs.  And last month it was Megha Rajagopalan, the Beijing Bureau chief of the online news magazine Buzzfeed.

With each expulsion of a foreign journalist comes speculation as to why.  Why did the Chinese authorities fail to renew a visa or cancel a press card.  The Chinese government hardly ever explains its reasons, citing that such failure to renew a visa was “in accordance with law.”  But no law or regulation is ever cited, let alone a specific provision.  As a result, most outside of China view the Chinese government’s decision having more to do with the reporter’s coverage of China than with any violated regulation.  With Gauthier, the Chinese government was more explicit about its decision to cancel her press card, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) criticizing Gauthier by name because of her scathing editorial on the Chinese government’s treatment of the Uighurs, a Muslim ethnic minority, in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of China.

Here, there can be little doubt that it was Rajagopalan’s reporting that resulted in her effective expulsion from China.  Under the law, MOFA clearly could have renewed Rajagopalan’s short-term journalist visa.  For some reason, it chose not to

Rajagopalan’s Reporting on Xinjiang – Why Is the Chinese Government So Sensitive About This?

Like Gauthier, Rajagopalan had done some hard-hitting reporting on the Uighers in Xinjiang, with an October 2017 article exposing the Chinese government’s increased surveillance and its mass detention of Uighurs for no other reason than being Uighur. Reporting from Xinjiang, Rajagopalan’s article was one of the first to uncover the Chinese government’s frightening oppression of Uighurs.  It also won her the Human Rights Press Awards’ Best Features Article (English) for that year.  In July 2018, Rajagopalan followed up her ground-breaking piece with another explosive article that brought to light the Chinese government’s pressure tactics on Uighurs abroad, including threats to send their Xinjiang-based family to internment camps if they do not spy on other Uighurs.

Xinjiang has long been a sensitive area for the Chinese government, fearing that the Muslim Uighurs could launch a successful separatist movement.  As a result, for over a decade, the Chinese government has instituted a national policy to “Go West,” encouraging ethnically Han Chinese to move to Xinjiang to develop this resource-rich area.  With the Go West policy, Xinjiang’s population has changed dramatically, with a current Han population of 40%, compared to 6% in 1949.  And with the increase in the Han population has come a decrease in the Uighur’s political clout and self-governance since Chinese Communist Party membership usually means giving up religion.  Few of the ethnically Muslim Uighurs are atheists and hence, unable to join the Party, and thus unable to effect change in their own region.  For example, when, in 2009, the Chinese government decided to destroy much of the the old city of Kashgar, a city that stood for centuries and was perhaps the most Uighur area of all of Xinjiang, the Uighurs were unable to stop it.  Needless to say, such loss of power over their own destinies and the attempted destruction of their own cultural identity has not produced a population satisfied with Chinese rule.

Some of the routes on China’s One Belt, One Road

And Xinjiang’s importance to the Chinese government has only increased in recent years as Xinjiang is central to the success of China’s “One Belt, One Road” policy.  Launched in 2013, One Belt, One Road is China’s very serious and well-funded attempt to exert economic influence globally. Xinjiang is the key land route to Central Asia and Europe, making it even more crucial that the Chinese government subdues the Uighur population.  To do so, in 2015, the Chinese government passed two national laws that had an disparate, negative effect on the Uighurs of Xinjiang: the broadly-worded National Security Law, that equated religious “extremism” with terrorism, and the Counter-Terrorism Law, which gave security forces significant powers to prohibit “extremism.”   Xinjiang was the first province to issue local regulations to carry out the precepts of the Counter-Terrorism law, including mandating governmental “aid and education” for those individuals who, while not convicted of any crimes, were induced into participating in terrorism or extremism, seemingly laying the groundwork for the mass detentions currently occurring. (See Xinjiang Implementing Regs of the Counter-Terrorism Law,  Art. 38)  And Rajagopalan’s article was one of the first to show that Uighurs were in fact being massively surveilled and detained in re-education internment camps without ever being tried – let alone convicted – of any crime.  Instead it was the simple practice of their religion that the government viewed as “extremism.”

Since Rajagopalan’s October 2017 article, both by the United States Department of State and the United Nations estimate that close to a million Uighurs have been sent to these internment camps without any trial, all for the purpose of stamping out the Uighur identity.  And there appears to be no end in sight with satellite images showing the rapid building of what looks like even more internment camps.

Chinese police officer stands guard outside a mosque in Xinjiang.

As more and more information began to emerge in the international media about the depth of the Chinese government’s whole-scale human rights violations against Uighurs, and as foreign governments and international bodies began to take notice and advocate sanctions against China, Rajagopalan’s visa was almost up and the Chinese government was in the midst of determining whether to renew it.  In May 2018, MOFA, the oversight agency of foreign journalists, informed Buzzfeed Rajagopalan’s journalist visa would not be renewed, forcing Rajagopalan to leave China as soon as it expired.

When questioned at an August 23, 2018 press conference, MOFA spokesperson Lu Wei stated that Rajagopalan’s visa issue was handled “in accordance with law and regulation” and, in his remarks, made a distinction, without explaining the significance, between Rajagopalan’s visa – a short-term journalist visa, known as a J-2 visa – and a resident foreign reporter’s visa, known as a J-1 visa.

Are J-2 Visa’s Non-Renewable Under Chinese Law?

Unlike the United States, where there is only one type of journalist visa, Chinese law distinguishes between two types of journalist visas, the J-1 and the J-2.  The J-1 visa can only be issued to journalists whose news agency has a permanent office in China (See Regulations on the Exit-Entry of Foreign Administration of Foreign Nationals (“Exit-Entry Regulations”), Article 6(5)).  Because of the “permanent office” requirement, J-1 visas are increasingly issued to only more traditional outlets; think the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian, etc.  J-1 visas also confers residency status, and J-1 visa holders must also apply for a Press Card from MOFA within 7 business days of their arrival in China. (See Regulations of the People’s Republic of China on News Coverage by Permanent Offices of Foreign Media Organizations and Foreign Journalists (“Foreign Media Regulations”), Article 10).

J-2 visas are issued to journalists who come to China for short-term reporting and there is no permanent office requirement. (Exit-Entry Regulations, Article 6(5).)  Traditionally, those are journalists coming to do a one-off story; for example, when a New York Newsday reporter travels to cover the U.S. President’s visit to China, or the Des Moines Register sends a reporter to cover the pork market in China.  J-2 visas are limited to six months (Foreign Media Regulations, Article 2) and J-2 journalists do not obtain a Press Card.

MOFA spokesperson Lu Wei

But increasingly, news agencies are seeking to send long-term reporters to China without establishing a permanent office.  This is especially true of online outlets like the Huffington Post and Buzzfeed, who, according to a source with knowledge of China’s visa issues, the Chinese government will not permit to set up a permanent offices.  or any agency that just doesn’t have the deep pockets of a Wall Street Journal or a New York Times.  But because they do not have a permanent office, Thus, their China-based reporters cannot obtain a J-1 visa.  Instead, the Chinese government has been providing these reporters with a J-2 visa with the understanding that the visa will be renewed when the initial term is over.  According to the New York Times, this was the deal that Buzzfeed worked out with the Chinese government prior to Rajagopalan’s arrival –a six month J-2 visa renewable upon its expiration. But when Rajagopalan’s six months were up, MOFA failed to renew her J-2 visa.

MOFA’s response to the question about the failure to renew Rajagopalan’s visa – that she was not a resident foreign reporter – seems to imply that the law does not permit the renewal of J-2 visas.  But this is not true.  Article 29 of China’s Exit-Entry Administration Law clearly contemplates the renewal of any short-term visa.  Article 29 lays out the procedures by which the holder can apply for an extension and the only limitation being that the renewed visa cannot be for a longer length of time than the original visa.

Al Jazeera journalist, Melissa Chan, back when she could report from China

In fact, MOFA has renewed J-2 visas in similar situations.  For two years, Matt Sheehan was the Huffington Post’s China-based reporter, meaning that his J-2, short-term visa must have been renewed every six months.  Similarly, Melissa Chan had three J-2 visas, repeatedly renewed until the Chinese government refused to renew her visa for a fourth time.

MOFA had the authority to renew Rajagopalan’s J-2 visa, it just decided not to.  And Rajagopalan’s reporting on Xinjiang was the catalyst that has led to the current international attention to Xinjiang, including the United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination’s public rebuke of the Chinese government’s practices in Xinjiang.  In July, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) held a powerful hearing condemning China’s human rights violations in Xinjiang and calling for the use of the Magnitsky Act against officials involved with Xinjiang.

Going to market in the police state of Xinjiang

Every day there are more and more articles exposing the internment of millions and the efforts to eliminate the Uighur culture.  The international heat is on about the Chinese government’s human rights violations in Xinjiang.  And the Chinese government’s failure to renew Rajagopalan’s visa was not just retribution against her.  Likely it was intended as a teaching lesson to other journalists – report on this and we might fail to renew your visa too.  Fortunately, no one has taken the cue and powerful reporting continues.  What will be the test comes this December, when all resident foreign reporters go through the annual rite of renewing their press cards and J-1 visas.  On some level, Rajagopalan, with her short-term J-2 visa, was low-hanging fruit.  Will the Chinese government conveniently lose paper work of resident foreign journalists, forcing them to leave the country while they wait for their paperwork to be found?  Or will press cards be canceled?  Or even more terrifyingly, will the Chinese government completely close off all access to Xinjiang?

Make no mistake, Rajagopalan was only the start.  Xinjiang – and the Chinese government’s desire to eradicate a strong Uighur identity – is too important for the Chinese government not to ratchet up its game.

Jumping the Shark? Xu Zhiyong’s Closing Statement to the Court & the CCP Reaction

By , January 23, 2014
Xu Zhiyong

Xu Zhiyong

On Wednesday, the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate Court concluded the trial of Xu Zhiyong on the charge of disrupting public order, a crime that can carry up to 5 years in jail.  At the conclusion of the trial, Xu was invited to make a final statement, a right afforded to him by Article 193 of the amended Criminal Procedure Law.  According to his attorneys, ten minutes into his closing statement, Xu was shutdown by the judge.  According to Article 235 of the Supreme People’s Court Interpretation on the Application of the Criminal Procedure Law, the Court is permitted to stop a closing statement:

“After the chief judge announces the conclusion of courtroom debate, the collegial panel shall ensure the defendant’s full exercise of the right to a final statement. Where the defendant in his final statement repeats his opinions several times, the chief judge may stop it. Where the final statement is contemptuous of the court or public prosecutor, harms others or the common interests of society, or are irrelevant to the case, they shall be stopped.” – translation courtesy of China Law Translate

Fortunately, Xu’s lawyers have released his closing statement in its entirety and Yaxue Cao over at the blog Change China has posted the English translation.  The document is an important read in understanding the New Citizens Movement, its principles, and why the Chinese Communist Party (“CCP”) is so afraid:

“While on the face of it, this appears to be an issue of the boundary between a citizen’s right to free speech and public order, what this is, in fact, is the issue of whether or not you recognize a citizen’s constitutional rights.

On a still deeper level, this is actually an issue of fears you all carry within: fear of a public trial, fear of a citizen’s freedom to observe a trial, fear of my name appearing online, and fear of the free society nearly upon us….” – Read the Full Translation Here Courtesy of Change China.

While this drama was unfolding in the courtroom, a separate drama was unfolding outside with various foreign journalists being physically harassed by both Chinese police and plain-clothed thugs likely hired by the Chinese police.  All of it caught on camera.  Here is Martin Patience of the BBC first harassed by police then by a group of thugs:

And here is Mark Stone of Sky News being manhandled:
Finally, CNN’s David McKenzie pushed into a police van and taken away against his will:

 

On some level, this is comical.  Harassing foreign journalists from filming outside of a courthouse?  The police had already cordoned off the perimeter of Beijing’s No. 1 Intermediate Court.  These guys were going to get no where near the courthouse in the first place.  All they wanted was just a backdrop of the courthouse for their story on the trial of Xu Zhiyong.

 

But instead, they got a whole other story – how the thug-like police state is willing to go on camera and push around foreign journalists with impunity.  Granted, with the Chinese government’s fairly strong control of the internet and its ability to prevent videos from getting through firewall, very few Chinese will see these videos.  But the rest of the world will.  The rest of the world will witness the mafioso-mentality, with hooded, hidden thugs, carrying out what are likely the orders from a high-level Public Security Bureau (PSB) official.  Was the trade-off worth it?  I would say no.

 

But does the CCP care what the rest of the world thinks of it?  Is this an arm-flexing exercise of the CCP?  That international opinion does not matter to them?  Certainly these videos are not ones the Chinese tourist industry wants potential tourists to see, but what about Western businesses?  Will they think twice now about betting on China?  If the past is to provide an answer, Western businesses will continue to look to China for their profits.

 

Or does it show a CCP that has jumped the shark?  That its grip on power is so feeble that it will go to any lengths, including ordering thugs to harass foreign journalists?  In his closing statement, Xu Zhiyong seems to think so – that a free society is nearly upon China.  But if history is to serve as any guide, the CCP has an uncanny talent of retaining power even when it looks like it is at its weakest.  This June will mark the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen protests.  Twenty-five years later, the Party that ordered the massacre is still in control.  And the people’s protests are still the same.

China Southern Weekend’s Protests – What’s it All About?

By , January 15, 2013

Less than a week after the Chinese government failed to renew New York Times reporter Chris Buckley’s visa, reporters at China’s Southern Weekend staged a protest when the local propaganda chief decided to sua sponte change the text of the newspaper’s annual New Year’s message before it went to press.

Although China is far from freedom of the press as we know it, the burgeoning commercial press has been more inclined to go to the limits of government censorship rules and push the envelope with hard-hitting stories.  Southern Weekend has long led the pack and has achieved international recognition for some of its reports.

Thus, when Southern Weekend‘s staff staged a protest, it made world news.

In a World Politics Review article, I analyze the meaning of last week’s protests, and highlight that the United States perhaps missed a perfect opportunity to reaffirm its commitment to a free press while thousands of Chinese were protesting for the same value.  Read the article here.

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