BEIJING — Al Jazeera, the satellite broadcasting network, was forced by the Chinese authorities to close its China news operations of its English-language channel on Monday, the first such action in almost 14 years and the strongest sign yet of fraying relations between the ruling Communist Party and the overseas journalists who cover it.
The network’s correspondent Melissa Chan was scheduled to leave Beijing by jet Monday night after the government refused normally routine requests to renew her press credentials or to allow another correspondent to replace her.
She declined to be quoted about her departure, and the government’s motive was not explicitly stated. But among other broadcasts, officials were said by some to have been angered by an English-language documentary on Chinese re-education through labor camps that Al Jazeera produced outside China and broadcast on its network in November.
The labor camps are often used to punish dissidents and other troublemakers. The documentary called the camps a form of slavery in which millions of prisoners produce goods sold worldwide by major companies. China denies using slave labor in its prisons.
In a statement released on Tuesday, the Beijing-based Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China noted that Ms. Chan played no role in the documentary that appeared to anger the Chinese, and that the government had offered no specific reason for denying the renewal of her visa beyond violations of unnamed rules.
“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,” the group stated. “The F.C.C.C. believes that foreign news organizations, not the Chinese government, have the right to choose who works for them in China, in line with international standards.”
Jazeera English officials expressed regret at the closing of their China operations, and said in a statement they had sought additional visas for journalists to expand their coverage here without success.
The closure, if not reversed, is a potentially significant loss for Al Jazeera Network, which began more than 15 years ago as the first independent news channel in the Arab world. It has expanded to more than 20 channels with more than 60 bureaus on six continents, according to the Web site of the parent company, based in Doha, Qatar. Ms. Chan, an American, was recently accepted as a Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford for the 2012-13 academic year.
“We constantly cover the voice of the voiceless, and sometimes that calls for tough news coverage from anywhere in world,” Salah Negm, Al Jazeera’s English news director, said in a written statement. “We hope China appreciates the integrity of our news coverage and our journalism. We value this journalistic integrity in our coverage of all countries in the world.”
The rejection of press credentials for Al Jazeera comes amid rising official sensitivity to foreign news coverage as China’s ascendance — and its increasingly high-profile social and political problems — have become issues of global importance and, in some quarters, criticism.
In recent weeks, Chinese authorities have privately and sharply criticized Western coverage of the upheaval in the country’s leadership ranks after the ouster of Bo Xilai, the ambitious Politburo member whose wife has been accused of murdering a British acquaintance.
Most recently, Beijing security officials last week harassed foreign journalists reporting on Chen Guangcheng, the blind lawyer and rights activist who fled house arrest last month to seek refuge in the United States Embassy here.
On Friday, officers temporarily confiscated the identification cards of several journalists who entered the grounds of the Beijing hospital where Mr. Chen is confined. Roughly a dozen other journalists were summoned to the public security bureau and warned that their visas would be revoked if they did not ask permission before seeking interviews with officials and others knowledgeable about Mr. Chen’s situation.
Journalists in China are nominally required to seek approval before conducting interviews, but in practice, the rule is almost never enforced.
Restrictions on foreign journalism in China are widely seen to have tightened in the last 18 months, as China’s leaders have striven to project an aura of stability and unity amid global political upheavals and China’s own turnover to a new generation of leaders, scheduled for this fall.
The crackdown dates to early 2011, when security officers detained foreign journalists seeking to cover the so-called Jasmine Spring protests, an online call for demonstrations in sympathy with Arab Spring revolutions in the Middle East. One American journalist was severely beaten and hospitalized. Many others were summoned to public security offices for warnings.
Still, Beijing generally has been loath to expel foreign journalists, and the few prominent instances have often involved allegations that reporters had violated national security prohibitions.
Ms. Chan is believed to be the first accredited foreign correspondent to be denied reporting privileges since the October 1998 expulsion of Yukihisa Nakatsu, a journalist with Japan’s largest daily newspaper, Yomiuri Shimbun. Mr. Nakatsu was accused of obtaining state secrets, apparently stemming from his contacts with a Chinese economic journalist arrested earlier by state security officers.
The Chinese expelled a German correspondent in 1995 after he wrote articles sharply critical of Li Peng, then the premier, who played a key role in decisions to use force to quash the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. Andrew Higgins, a correspondent for London’s Independent newspaper, was expelled in 1991 after being found with confidential information about a supposed crackdown on Inner Mongolian nationalists.
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