Commentary on Political Economy

Wednesday, 31 March 2021

 

WELCOME TO FREE TAIWAN, JOHN !  YOU ARE A HERO!

BBC reporter forced to flee China

John Sudworth, the BBC’s China correspondent. Picture: Supplied
John Sudworth, the BBC’s China correspondent. Picture: Supplied
  • By Didi Tang and Ben Hoyle
  • An hour ago 

The BBC’s China correspondent has decamped from Beijing to Taiwan over fears for his safety after suffering a campaign of harassment from the Chinese authorities, including threats of legal action and surveillance.

John Sudworth said he and his family had decided it was “too risky” to remain in the Chinese capital while he and his colleagues faced “massive surveillance, obstruction and intimidation” when they tried to report and film.

“We as a family based in Beijing, along with the BBC, decided it was just too risky to carry on – which unfortunately is precisely the point of that sort of intimidation – and we have relocated to Taiwan,” he told the BBC’s Today program yesterday morning.

“This was not a choice that we wanted to make,” he said.

ABC journalist Bill Birtles fled China in September last year. Picture: AFP
ABC journalist Bill Birtles fled China in September last year. Picture: AFP

Sudworth, who had been based in China for nearly nine years, is the latest foreign journalist to move to Taiwan, “a route that is reasonably well trodden now by a number of others”, he said, because of the greater press freedoms there.

He and his family had “left in a hurry, followed by plainclothes police to the airport, all the way to the check-in hall – the true grim reality for reporters here being made clear all the way to the very end”, he said.

Chinese state media accused Sudworth of “ideological bias” and churning out “fake news” and alleged that he had “fled the country” and was “hiding” in Taiwan to escape possible legal penalties for his “many biased stories distorting” Beijing’s policies in the far-west region of Xinjiang, home to the oppressed Uighur ethnic minority, and its responses to the pandemic.

“I suppose if I was hiding, the Today program would be an odd place to do it. We intend to carry on reporting,” he said yesterday morning.

Police followed Sudworth and his family to the airport as he left Beijing. Picture: AFP
Police followed Sudworth and his family to the airport as he left Beijing. Picture: AFP

A BBC statement confirmed he would remain the broadcaster’s China correspondent: “John’s work has exposed truths the Chinese authorities did not want the world to know. The BBC is proud of John’s award-winning reporting during his time in Beijing.”

Sudworth joined the BBC in 2003. He moved to Shanghai in 2012, and Beijing three years later, after having been based in Dhaka and Seoul.

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC) said he was among “an ever-larger number of journalists driven out by unacceptable harassment” and called his departure “a loss for the journalism community in China and more broadly for anyone committed to understanding the country”.

His departure from China comes as other foreign reporters have chosen to relocate, or had their visas shortened or revoked. Last year at least 18 journalists from The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal were expelled, as relations between Beijing and Washington turned sour.

Beijing has also targeted the BBC over its reports on the human rights abuses. Earlier this month Xu Guixiang, a propaganda official for the Xinjiang regional government, said lawsuits would be filed against the BBC.

The Chinese foreign ministry said Sudworth left the country without completing the proper paperwork, including returning his press credentials. It said it was unaware of any threats from the Chinese government against Sudworth.

The Times

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