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Journalist visa tensions ease in China

A policeman asks a foreign journalist (L) to leave the area near the Peace Cinema in Shanghai, 2011. REUTERSThe Foreign Correspondents Club of China has compiled the results of this year’s annual survey of visa issues for correspondents. Some 142 responded (including 35 from non-FCCC members), up from 127 last year.

In general, most correspondents (72%) seeking to renew their press cards received them from the Foreign Ministry within seven working days. About 87% received their new residence visas within the 10 working days that the PSB had said would be necessary. This 10-day window for visas was a substantial improvement over 2014, when the standard wait time was 15 working days.

While less than 4% of respondents reported problems renewing their press cards or visas, Chinese authorities continued in 2015 to abuse the press card and visa renewal process in a political manner, punishing reporters and media organisations for the content of their coverage if it has displeased the government.

The most glaring example of this was the well publicised case of Ursula Gauthier, a correspondent for L’Obs, who became the first foreign reporter expelled from China since 2012.

Among other incidents, the authorities delayed credentials for one correspondent apparently because of displeasure at his network’s coverage of China in 2015. Another reported being invited for “tea” by a Foreign Ministry official on the first day of press card renewals where he was told to be more positive in his reports.

While fewer correspondents reported trouble renewing their press cards and visas at the end of 2015 than in 2014, police and other authorities throughout the past year have persisted in their attempts to discourage correspondents from reporting on sensitive court cases and protests by suggesting that their presence at such events might result in non-renewal of their press cards or visas.

Another journalist said he was threatened by police with non-renewal of his credentials while reporting on the trial of civil rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang in Beijing in December 2015. Another reported being intimidated by a request from the PSB to give a detailed account of his/her whereabouts over the past months.

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