In this file photo, a cotton picker works in the field in Hami in northwest China's Xinjiang region. (AP)
In this file photo, a cotton picker works in the field in Hami in northwest China's Xinjiang region. (AP)

BBC scribe flees China after threats over Xinjiang, Covid-19 reporting

A senior China correspondent for the BBC has moved to Taiwan following legal threats, pressure, and intimidation over reports on alleged Xinjiang rights abuses and the coronavirus pandemic
By Sutirtho Patranobis I Edited by Amit Chanda
PUBLISHED ON MAR 31, 2021 06:00 PM IST

A senior China correspondent for the BBC has moved to Taiwan following legal threats, pressure, and intimidation over reports on alleged Xinjiang rights abuses and the coronavirus pandemic.

John Sudworth told BBC Radio 4 that he had relocated to Taiwan after nine years in Beijing as it was “too risky to carry on”. “We left in a hurry, followed by plainclothes police all the way to the airport through the check-in. The true grim reality for reporters here is being made clear all the way to the very end.”

Sudworth’s wife, Yvonne Murray, the China correspondent of RTE, the Irish broadcaster, left with him, the Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC) said.

Sudworth’s relocation comes amid criticism of the BBC for its reporting on alleged forced labour practices targeting Uighur Muslim minorities in Xinjiang’s cotton industry in particular.

The reportage was strongly criticised by the Chinese foreign ministry as well as state media outlets.

The BBC confirmed Sudworth’s relocation after the tabloid Global Times reported on Wednesday, he was “hiding” in Taiwan.

Quoting unnamed sources, the tabloid accused Sudworth of “hiding in Taiwan” after he “…became infamous in China for his many biased stories” on Xinjiang and also the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic.

When asked about the development, the Chinese foreign ministry denied any hand in it. “We never threatened him,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said. “We don’t know why he left because he didn’t say goodbye.”

On the threat of legal notices on the reports, Hua said, “I think those people are trying to protect their own rights and interests through legal means, but such acts have nothing to do with the Chinese government.”

In its statement, the BBC said, “John’s reporting has exposed truths the Chinese authorities did not want the world to know.”

The FCCC said Sudworth “forms one of an ever-larger number of journalists driven out of China by unacceptable harassment”.

In a statement shared on social media, the FCCC added that he had been kept on “a series of short visas, variously lasting one, three and six months”, putting pressure on his ability to raise his young family.

“Sudworth left after months of personal attacks and disinformation targeting him and his BBC colleagues, disseminated by both the Chinese state media and Chinese government officials.”

The club noted that attacks on Sudworth and the BBC escalated after the British broadcasting regulator revoked the licence of Chinese state TV channel CGTN in February. “We urge China to live up to its stated commitment to facilitate unhindered reporting in China. In particular, the FCCC calls for an end to dangerous, personal attacks on individual reporters and foreign media outlets.”

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