Asia Pacific

French journalist to leave China for failing to follow official line on Xinjiang violence


A French journalist said she is prepared to leave China and does not expect authorities to renew her press credentials because of her reporting of Beijing’s efforts to equate ethnic violence in the western Muslim region with global terrorism.

Ursula Gauthier, a longtime journalist for the French news magazine L’Obs, said late Friday that China’s Foreign Ministry had demanded she issue a public apology and distance herself from any group that should present her case as infringement of press freedom in China.

Left with no room for negotiations, she said she plans to leave on Dec. 31, when her visa expires.

“They want a public apology for things that I have not written,” Gauthier said. “They are accusing me of writing things that I have not written.”

The fallout began with Gauthier’s Nov. 18 article, shortly after the attacks in Paris. She wrote that Beijing’s proclaimed solidarity with Paris is not without ulterior motives, as Beijing seeks international support for its assertion that the ethnic violence in the Muslim region of Xinjiang is part of global terrorism.

Gauthier wrote that some of the violent attacks in Xinjiang appeared to be homegrown with no evidence of foreign ties — an observation that has been made by numerous foreign experts on security and Xinjiang’s ethnic policies and practices.

Advocacy groups have argued that the violence is more likely to be a response to Beijing’s suppressive policies in Xinjiang.

In her article, Gauthier focused on a deadly mine attack in a remote region of Xinjiang, which she described as more likely an act by Uighurs against mine workers of the majority Han ethnic group over what the Uighurs perceived as mistreatment, injustice and exploitation.

The article quickly drew stern criticism from state media and the Chinese government.

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs criticized Western media for using double standards in reporting on the violence, and said that terrorism should not be considered ethnic violence in Xinjiang.

“Why is terrorism in other countries called terrorist actions, but it turns out to be ethnic and religious issues in China?” ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a regular news briefing on Dec. 2.

By then, state media had carried abusive editorials against Gauthier, accusing her of having deep prejudice against China and having hurt the feelings of the Chinese people.

On Friday, Gauthier said that the Foreign Ministry demanded her apology for “hurting Chinese people’s feelings with wrong and hateful actions and words,” and to publicly state that she recognizes that there have been terrorist attacks in and outside Xinjiang.

She said she could not comply and would not distance herself from support groups.

“What they are doing is just to show all the foreign correspondents here what you get if you write whatever is not palatable to Chinese authorities. That’s the message,” Gauthier said.

If Gauthier does not get her press credentials renewed by the end of year, she will become the first foreign journalist to be forced to leave China since American journalist Melissa Chan, then working for Al Jazeera in Beijing, was expelled in 2012.