New York Times reporter leaves China after visa denial

BEIJING (AFP) - A New York Times reporter left Beijing on Thursday after authorities did not grant him a visa, in a case that comes as Chinese authorities ratchet up pressure on foreign media.

Mr Austin Ramzy, who has been based in China for more than six years, departed Beijing for Taipei, where he will be based.

"China is forcing out Austin Ramzy today after 6.5 years," Times China correspondent Ed Wong wrote on Twitter.

"And we're off. Next stop, Taipei," Mr Ramzy tweeted. In an earlier message, he wrote: "Sad to be leaving Beijing. Hope I can return soon."

His departure comes a month after US Vice President Joe Biden raised the issue of China's treatment of foreign journalists privately with Chinese leaders during a visit to Beijing.

Beijing has blocked the websites of both the Times and Bloomberg News after they published investigations in 2012 into the family wealth of former premier Wen Jiabao and President Xi Jinping, respectively.

Authorities also reportedly conducted unannounced "inspections" of Bloomberg's bureaux in Beijing and Shanghai last month and demanded an apology from its editor-in-chief amid a controversy over an unpublished article on the government ties of a Chinese billionaire.

China's foreign ministry this week said that Mr Ramzy's journalist visa, which the newspaper applied for in June after he joined from Time magazine, would not be ready before the end of the month, effectively obliging him to leave.

The Foreign Correspondents' Club of China (FCCC) said it "strongly regrets" that Mr Ramzy "has been forced to leave" and criticised China's behaviour, saying it "falls well short of international standards".

He is the third New York Times journalist to not be authorised to stay in China in 18 months, it pointed out in a statement.

"In these circumstances it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the authorities are punishing the New York Times for articles it published concerning Premier Wen Jiabao and his family."

Mr Chris Buckley, a veteran Reuters China correspondent hired by the Times, similarly had to leave Beijing when his previous visa expired in December 2012.

Mr Philip Pan, the Times's designated Beijing bureau chief, has been waiting for nearly two years for Chinese authorities to grant him a visa and covers the country from Hong Kong.

Asked about China's treatment of foreign journalists, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying denied any expulsions.

"There's no such thing as foreign journalists being expelled from China," Ms Hua said Wednesday at a regular news briefing, adding: "It is Chinese domestic affairs. We are firmly opposed to any individual or any government or organisation interfering in China's domestic affairs."

Chinese authorities have also said that Mr Ramzy breached visa rules by not changing his status after leaving Time, but the FCCC disputed the accusation.

Foreign journalists covering the trial of activist Xu Zhiyong in Beijing last week were harassed and manhandled by uniformed and plainclothes police.

Register here to get free digital access to The Straits Times until Aug 9, 2015.
Comments