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China forces Al Jazeera to close Beijing news bureau

China refused to renew the visa for Al Jazeera's China reporter. This is the first time an accredited foreign correspondent living in China has been ejected since 1998.

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China has expelled the English language correspondent of Al Jazeera, prompting the Qatar-based channel to close its Beijing bureau, an Al Jazeera spokesman said on Tuesday.

Melissa Chan’s expulsion marks the first time an accredited foreign correspondent living in China has been ejected since 1998.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry did not immediately answer a faxed request for an explanation of the expulsion, but Chinese officials are known to have expressed their anger at a documentary the channel aired last November on the alleged use of slave labor by prisoners in Chinese jails.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told Scandinavian correspondents at a recent private dinner that the documentary had been “fabricated” according to two of the reporters present.

Ms. Chan played no role in making the program, which was produced by Al Jazeera’s London bureau, according to a spokesman for the channel.

During talks between Chinese and Al Jazeera officials earlier this year, the Chinese also accused Chan of unspecified violations of Chinese law. A spokesman for the channel said that Al Jazeera had repeatedly asked for clarification of the nature of these violations but had not been given one.

Chan had made a reputation for herself with a number of investigative reports on issues about which the Chinese authorities are sensitive, such as the violent confiscation of farmers’ land for development projects and the incarceration of citizens protesting such behavior in illegal “black jails” in Beijing.

The Chinese government’s refusal to renew Chan’s accreditation beyond the end of March or to accredit a replacement correspondent left Al Jazeera with “no choice other than to close its Beijing bureau,” the channel said in its statement.

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