China Cracks Down on Journalists for the First Time in 14 Years


The journalist visa application was just a standard procedure in China—until yesterday, that is.


Respected journalist Melissa Chan of Al Jazeera English was forced to board a flight out of Beijing this week after Chinese officials refused to renew her visa. Chai Ling, founder of All Girls Allowed, commended Chan for boldly pursuing leads on stories of human rights abuses. “Melissa Chan is a model for investigative reporting in China,” said Chai. “I hope others will follow her lead in giving a voice to the voiceless and fulfilling the highest calling in journalism.”


In 2010, Chan documented the immediate aftermath of a forced abortion. She interviewed a mother after officials beat her severely, restrained her, and then injected chemicals that aborted her pregnancy at 8 months. During Chan’s interview, the mother was in the hospital waiting to undergo a surgery that would remove the dead infant.


Censorship in China is nothing new, but Beijing has typically refrained from taking the dramatic step of expelling a journalist. The last time this happened was in 1998. “The action speaks for itself,” said Chai. “They do not plan to end the One-Child Policy and other abuses any time soon, so they threaten and remove the journalists who bravely expose these things to the public.”


“Chinese authorities are trying to intimidate the press to extend the reach of their censorship overseas,” said Chai.


It is a tactic that has worked well before, especially with regard to criticism of the One-Child Policy. For fear of losing their visas, other journalists may now be more hesitant to delve into topics that might raise the ire of the Chinese government. Chai Ling is concerned that this will affect coverage of the One-Child Policy and forced abortion, especially following the Chinese government’s embarrassment at the coverage last week of lawyer Chen Guangcheng’s extralegal detention and escape.


Chen was imprisoned because of his advocacy for women who faced forced abortions and sterilizations, but the media coverage of his escape has barely touched upon the stories of these women. Chai Ling said: “I call upon journalists to continue sharing the stories of the women that Chen sought to protect—the same stories that Melissa Chan exposed so boldly. To remain silent on these ongoing abuses is to give a victory to those who impose them. Silence also brings a further defeat to Chinese citizens who are pushing for the reforms that their country desperately needs.”

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