EU condemns China’s ‘harassment’ of foreign journalists after BBC’s Sudworth flees

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The European Union has condemned the “harassment” of foreign correspondents in China after a BBC journalist had to relocate from Beijing to Taiwan.

BBC’s Beijing correspondent John Sudworth was forced to move to Taiwan a few days ago following pressure and threats from the Chinese authorities.

Foreign correspondents were “being driven out of China as a result of continuous harassment and obstruction to their work”, the EU statement said, and called on China to adhere to national and international law and ensure freedom of speech and press in the country.

Sudworth, who won awards for his reporting on the treatment of the Uyghur people in the Xinjiang region, left the Chinese capital together with his family, including his wife, RTÉ reporter Yvonne Murray.

China, which has denounced the BBC’s coverage of Xinjiang, said it was unaware of any threat to Sudworth other than possible legal action to challenge his reporting on the region.

But he and his family were followed by plainclothes police to the airport and tailed through check-in.

The BBC says it is proud of his reporting and Sudworth, who was based in the country for nine years, remains its China correspondent.

A spokesperson for EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said at least 18 correspondents had been expelled from China last year.

“The EU has repeatedly expressed its concerns to the Chinese authorities at the undue working restrictions imposed on foreign journalists and reported related harassment,” the spokesperson added.

“Professionalism and objectivity of foreign correspondents is increasingly put into question.”

They said the EU stood up “for the role of independent and reliable media all around the world” and called upon China to “abide by its obligations under national and international law and ensure the freedom of speech and press”.

The number of international media organisations reporting from China is shrinking. Last year China expelled correspondents for the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, among others.

And in September 2020, the last two reporters working in China for Australian media flew home after a five-day diplomatic standoff.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said the authorities had not been given prior notice of Sudworth’s departure.

“Only in recent days when we were faced with the task of renewing Sudworth’s press card did we learn that Sudworth left without saying goodbye,” Hua Chunying told a news conference in Beijing. “After he left the country, he didn’t by any means inform the relevant departments nor provide any reason why.”

In its statement, the BBC said: “John’s reporting has exposed truths the Chinese authorities did not want the world to know.” (Source: BBC)

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