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BBC correspondent says he left China after pressure campaign, threats

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A BBC correspondent stationed in China said Wednesday that he left the country and relocated to Taiwan due to a months-long propaganda campaign against him and the news outlet.

John Sudworth said in a video statement published by the BBC that he had faced pressure from the Chinese government due to the BBC’s coverage of certain topics in the country. Sudworth has covered the coronavirus pandemic in China as well as the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region.

“In recent months, there’s been an intensifying propaganda campaign targeting not just the BBC, but me personally and my work in particular. There have been legal threats and — as well as an intensifying attempt to obstruct and harass us whenever and wherever we film,” Sudworth said.

“As a result of these rising risks and increasing difficulties, a decision was made that after tolerating it for so long we should relocate,” he added.

Sudworth’s wife, Yvonne Murray, is also a reporter based in China for Irish public broadcaster RTÉ. He says that both he and his wife were followed to the airport and into the check-in area by plainclothes police officers.

The Chinese government pushed back against the claim that Sudworth faced pressure. 

“Only in recent days when we were faced with the task of renewing Sudworth’s press card did we learn that Sudworth left without saying goodbye. After he left the country, he didn’t by any means inform the relevant departments nor provide any reason why,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said at a press conference.

“Although Mr. Sudworth departed without fulfilling the required procedures, we could have left it there. But then he tried to deflect the blame. And he’s not doing it alone by posing as a victim, but has also rallied the BBC and the so-called FCCC to issue statements. All this is utterly unacceptable,” Hua said.

Though Sudworth has left China, his reporting colleagues have remained in the country and he will continue his work as the BBC’s China correspondent while operating out of Taipei, Taiwan.

The BBC notes that the number of international media organizations reporting from China has decreased, with the Chinese government expelling correspondents from The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal in the past year. 

“Abuse of Sudworth and his colleagues at the BBC forms part of a larger pattern of harassment and intimidation that obstructs the work of foreign correspondents in China and exposes their Chinese news assistants to growing pressure,” The Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) said in a statement.

Tags BBC COVID-19 pandemic in mainland China Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Foreign Correspondents' Club Hua Chunying Sudworth
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