Gauthier's article described the "merciless crushing of the Muslim Uyghur minority"
She said China had no basis for comparing this with the global war on terror
China said her article "overtly advocates for acts of terrorism and killings of innocent civilians"
Chinese authorities say they’re not renewing the press credentials for a French journalist whose recent reporting questioned Beijing’s “ulterior motives” in standing in solidarity with France after the November Paris attacks, and criticized China’s handling of its Uyghur minority.
Ursula Gauthier, a Beijing-based correspondent for French magazine L’OBS since 2009, wrote in an article published on November 18 – less than a week after coordinated attacks killed at least 130 people in Paris – that China had no basis in drawing parallels between the international pledge to fight against terrorism and its own version, that she calls “the merciless crushing of the Muslim Uyghur minority.”
“In other words, if China declares its solidarity with nations threatened by Islamic State, in return it expects the support of the international community in its own entanglements with its most restless minority,” she added.
The piece drew strong criticism from the Chinese authorities.
In a statement posted by the Chinese Foreign Ministry Saturday, spokesperson Lu Kang said Gauthier’s article “overtly advocates for acts of terrorism and killings of innocent civilians, and caused public outrage among the Chinese people.
“Given that Gauthier failed to make a serious apology to the Chinese people for her wrongful speech advocating for terrorism acts, it is no longer appropriate for her to continue working in China.”
When contacted by CNN, Gauthier said that she would leave China on Thursday.
Nothing in common
In her article, Gauthier wrote that shortly after Chinese President Xi Jinping assured French counterpart Francois Hollande of China’s commitment to fight against terrorism, Chinese police announced the capture of the leaders of a September 18 attack that claimed some 50 lives at a remote coal mine in Xinjiang’s Baicheng County.
“But, bloody though it was, the Baicheng attack had nothing in common with the 13th November attacks,” Gauthier wrote, according to an English translation of her original report published by China Digital Times.
“In fact it was an explosion of local rage such as have blown up more and more often in this distant province whose inhabitants, turcophone and Muslim Uyghurs, face pitiless repression.”
Chinese authorities and state media presented a different version of the event. They said security forces, along with local officials and residents, carried out a 56-day operation against a group of “violent attackers” responsible for ambushing police and civilians at the mine. The police said the attacks were directly planned by an “extreme organization outside the border,” whose members had been watching and listening to extreme religious materials and received specific guidance before carrying out the attack.
All the alleged attackers were killed by November 12, according to the police.
While the Chinese police did not specify the ethnicity of the alleged attackers, Gauthier said they were a small group of Uyghurs “pushed to the limit, probably in revenge for an abuse, an injustice or an expropriation.”
Who are the Uyghurs?
The Uyghurs are a predominantly Muslim ethnic group living primarily in China’s northwestern Xinjiang, an autonomous region marked by occasional tensions between the Uyghur and the Han Chinese communities. Security has increasingly heightened in Xinjiang over recent years as the area has seen violent incidents such as the 2014 attack targeting civilians an Urumqi market that left at least 31 dead and 90 injured.
“But so long as the Uyghurs’ situation continues to get worse, China’s magnificent mega-cities will be vulnerable to the risk of machete attacks.” Gauthier wrote.
Human rights observers accuse China of being heavy-handed and treating the Uyghurs unfairly by restricting their freedom of religion and speech.
Beijing officials say they are only going after perpetrators planning or carrying out terrorist attacks, and accuse western governments, rights activists and journalists of being hypocritical and applying double standards when criticizing China’s ethnic policy and management of other domestic issues.
Meanwhile, a number of western journalists and human rights observers were quick to support Gauthier on social media.
“Ursula Gauthier won’t be going quietly. Chinese media starting to lay out attacks on her,” tweeted The New York Times’ China correspondent Chris Buckley.
Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East Asia, tweeted, “Expulsion of French journalist @ugauthier for Xinjiang article opens a new era for foreign media in China. French gvt silence a mistake.”
The French Foreign Ministry said in a Friday statement they regret that Gauthier’s credential was not renewed, and they “recall the importance of the role journalists play throughout the world.”
Gauthier is the first high-profile foreign journalist to be expelled from China since Al Jazeera’s Melissa Chan in 2012.
On Gauthier’s expulsion, Chan tweeted, “Gauthier was told she could stay in China if she publicly apologized for… yep, you guess it: hurting the feelings of the Chinese people.”
But on the other side, Chinese state media and many Chinese Internet users backed the government’s decision.
“China ought to send such a voice out to the world. Anyone daring to challenge the justice of humanity is not welcomed by the Chinese people,” one Weibo user wrote.
“Gauthier is a terrorist herself since she is advocating for them. I firmly support the government to rid this Gauthier who disguises herself as a journalist, and never allow her to China’s territory again,” said another.
An online poll conducted by state-run newspaper The Global Times showed 94.6% of nearly 200,000 surveyed people support Gauthier’s removal.
This is not the first time Gauthier has drawn the ire of Beijing authorities.
Earlier this month, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Chunying expressed frustration over Gauthier’s reporting on China’s counter-terrorism policy.
“We cannot understand why other countries’ counter-terrorism policies are legitimate, but China’s counter-terrorism activities are so-called ethnic oppression,” Hua said. “This is an absurd logic. It is political prejudice and double standards. I think it is necessary to clarify what happened and rectify the issue. “
Foreign journalists in China complain authorities are increasingly restricting press freedom in the country, making it harder and harder for them to report freely. Chinese officials deny the claim, and instead insist foreign journalists should play by the same rules as Chinese journalists and refrain from violating laws and regulations when reporting.