Chinese government officials won't renew press credentials for French journalist Ursula Gauthier for criticizing Beijing's treatment of its Muslim Uighur minority.
A November 18 report by Gauthier, longtime Beijing correspondent for the French newsweekly L’Obs, suggested China used recent terrorist attacks in Paris to justify crackdowns on Uighur people in China's northwest Xinjiang region.
Calling Gauthier's report supportive of violence committed by Uighurs, which China considers terrorist activity, Beijing officials are refusing to grant an extension for her press visa, which expires December 31.
Gauthier told Voice of America Monday that Beijing also is demanding a public apology for things she has not written.
"They say this is because I refuse to make a solemn and public apology for what I have written on Nov. 18, concerning the situation in Xinjiang,” said Gauthier. “They say I should do the apology to the Chinese people because I have hurt their feelings. I am not convinced I have hurt the feelings of anyone."
Gauthier's article says some violent attacks involving Xinjiang's Uighur community appear to have been homegrown, with little evidence of ties to global terrorism. The report also describes a deadly mine attack in Xinjiang as a possible response to what Uighurs consider injustice and mistreatment by Beijing. That assertion echoes opinions of some regional experts and advocacy groups that have tied the violence to Beijing’s repressive policies.
Gauthier’s article drew harsh criticism from state media and Chinese government officials, such as Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang, who accused Gauthier of “supporting terrorism and cruel acts against civilians.”
Gauthier denied the accusations, saying she has the impression that no one inside the ministry has read her article.
“Everyone is basing his understanding on the analysis of one article done by the official Global Times,” she said. “But the Global Times distorted my writing, distorted heavily, beyond recognition."
“When the ministry spokesperson said I have supported terrorism and have no sympathy for innocent victims, I wonder if he at least has read my article,” she added.
The French Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Friday: “We regret that the visa of Madame Ursula Gauthier was not renewed. France recalls the importance of the role journalists play throughout the world.”
The Foreign Correspondents Club of China also expressed concern that Beijing is using the press accreditation and visa processing to intimidate foreign journalists. The group called accusations that Gauthier supports terrorism “a particularly egregious personal and professional affront with no basis in fact.”
Gauthier said her expulsion is “only meant to deter foreign correspondents in the future in Beijing.”
“Chinese society has very few freedoms, so if it takes away freedom of opinion, of expression and freedom of press, than I am afraid we are going back, way back to a period of Chinese history that we all thought is over," she said.
On December 31, Gauthier will become the first foreign journalist forced to leave China since 2012, when al Jazeera correspondent Melissa Chan, an American, was expelled without formal explanation from Beijing.
This article was produced in coordination with VOA's Mandarin service.