DHARAMSHALA, January 1: A New York Times journalist has been forced to leave mainland China after his visa was not renewed, in an apparent act of retaliation for reporting about the family wealth of Chinese premier Wen Jiabao.
Chris Buckley, a 45-year-old Australian who has worked as a correspondent in China since 2000, was forced to fly to Hong Kong along with his partner and their 12-year-old daughter on Monday.
The Times said it applied for Buckley to be accredited to replace a correspondent who was reassigned, but the authorities did not act before December 31, despite numerous requests.
Buckley has received no official explanation on why his application has not been accepted after a delay of more than two months, the report said.
Times believe that the accreditation denial is linked to the report it carried on Wen’s family wealth.
Ahead of China’s once-a-decade leadership change last November, Times carried a news report stating that Wen’s family had accumulated USD 2.7 billion assets.
On the day that Times published the report both its English-language website and its new Chinese-language site were blocked within China, and they remain so.
“The visa troubles come amid government pressure on the foreign news media over investigations into the finances of senior Chinese leaders, a delicate subject. Corruption is widely reported in China, but top leaders are considered off limits,” the Times said in its report on Tuesday.
In a statement, the Times urged the authorities to process Buckley’s visa as quickly as possible so that he and his family could return to Beijing.
“I hope the Chinese authorities will issue him a new visa as soon as possible and allow Chris and his family to return to Beijing,” Jill Abramson, the executive editor of the Times, said in the statement.
In June, Chinese authorities blocked the English-language site of Bloomberg News after it published a detailed investigation into the family riches of China’s new top leader, Xi Jinping.
Also this year in May, Al-Jazeera, the Qatar based news service, was forced to close its English-language bureau in Beijing after China decided not to renew the press credentials and visa for its reporter Melissa Chan.
Although the Chinese foreign ministry declined from saying why the reporter had been expelled, it is widely believed that Chinese officials were not happy with a documentary on labour camps in China that Al Jazeera had aired.
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China then issued a statement strongly criticising Beijing for its censorship and intimidation of foreign correspondents.
“This is the most extreme example of a recent pattern of using journalist visas in an attempt to censor and intimidate foreign correspondents in China,” FCCC had said.