Indian-American Buzzfeed News journalist Megha Rajagopalan denied Chinese visa; scribes pledge support

China has refused to renew the journalist visa for an Indian-American woman reporter of the US-based BuzzFeed News allegedly due to her critical reporting on the volatile Muslim-majority Xinjiang province. Megha Rajagopalan on Wednesday said in a tweet that China's foreign ministry declined to issue her a new visa in May.

"It is bittersweet to leave Beijing after spending six wonderful and eye-opening years as a journalist there," Rajagopalan, who previously worked for Reuters in Beijing, said. "In May, China's foreign ministry declined to issue a new journalist visa to me. They say this is a process thing, we are not totally clear why," she said in a tweet.

Last month, Rajagopalan had tweeted about her story on "how China's sprawling surveillance state recruits, threatens and intimidates Muslim Uighurs into spying for Beijing and staying silent — even in Europe and the United States. My latest, based on first-hand accounts, text messages and audio recordings".

In the past, China has denied visas to journalists reporting stories that are critical in nature. China Digital Times reported that Al-Jazeera's Melissa Chan had to leave the country after her documents were not renewed in 2012, and like Rajagoplan's case, the government authorities failed to give an explanation. French journalist Ursula Gauthier of L'Obs was also denied a visa renewal in 2015 after she reported on the situation in Xinjiang.

Rajagopalan has now been appointed as the world correspondent for BuzzFeed News based in the West Asia.

 A journalist of the 'highest standards'

In a statement, the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China said it has found the treatment meted out to Rajagopalan "extremely regrettable and unacceptable for a government that repeatedly insists it welcomes foreign media to cover the country."

"We are attempting to get clarity from the Foreign Ministry on its reasoning for effectively ejecting a credentialed foreign journalist from China," the FCC said.

Rajagoplan's acclaimed article “This is what a 21st-century police state really looks like” highlighted the surveillance technology in Xinjiang, and won recognition at the 2018 Human Rights Press Awards. The piece spoke about the region heading towards an increasingly stringent police state, pointing out the installation of fingerprint scanning technology among other features.

Listing the everyday-actions that can draw the suspicious scrutiny of the government to the members of the Muslim community Uighur in Xinjiang, the article says, "For millions of people in China’s remote far west, a dystopian future is already here. China, which has already deployed the world’s most sophisticated internet censorship system, is building a surveillance state in Xinjiang, a four-hour flight from Beijing, that uses both the newest technology and human policing to keep tabs on every aspect of citizens’ daily lives."

"The region is home to a Muslim ethnic minority called the Uighurs, who China has blamed for forming separatist groups and fueling terrorism."

Another article that was critical of the extent of surveillance of the State, and included interviews of Uighurs who have moved abroad. The article, "They thought they had left the surveillance state behind. They were wrong", says, "BuzzFeed News interviewed 10 people in the exiled Uighur community who were targeted by Chinese state security after they moved overseas. They come from all walks of life — from waitstaff and fruit sellers to businessmen and government officials."

Journalists in solidarity with Rajagopalan

Several journalists have taken to Twitter to express their support to Rajagopalan, insisting that the Chinese government consider issuing her a visa to improve its perception abroad.

Cédric Alviani, director of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) East Asia, told Hong Kong Free Press, “Harassing foreign journalists and then posing as a victim when they publish annoying reports will not help the Chinese government to improve its image… Such behaviour is all the more shocking because the regime does its best to exploit the freedom available to journalists in democratic countries in order to develop its propaganda network there.”

According to the China Digital Times report, the Committee to Protect Journalists also issued a statement, “Denying a visa to BuzzFeed reporter Megha Rajagopalan is a transparent attempt to stifle news coverage of how China treats the Uighur population of Xinjiang Province,” said Steven Butler, CPJ Asia program coordinator, in Washington, DC. “If Chinese authorities truly believe their insistence that they are not committing human rights violations in Xinjiang, they should open the door for more journalists to freely report on the issue,” he added.

Resource-rich Xinjiang, bordering Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Afghanistan, is on the boil for years following unrest among Uighur Muslims over the increasing settlements of majority Han Chinese from other provinces.

It has witnessed some of the deadly terrorist attacks in recent years which also spread to other parts of China.

China blames the separatist East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) for the violent attacks in the province and spreading Islamic militancy.

The ETIM was previously linked to al-Qaeda and now to the ISIS.

With inputs from agencies

Updated Date: Aug 23, 2018 16:17:16 IST