Jessica Goodfellow
Apr 1, 2021

BBC journalist leaves Beijing following 'threats' over Uyghur coverage

John Sudworth has relocated to Taiwan following 'months of personal attacks' over the BBC's reporting, including of alleged human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims.

BBC journalist leaves Beijing following 'threats' over Uyghur coverage

The BBC's Beijing correspondent John Sudworth has left China after sustaining "months of personal attacks" from Chinese state media and government officials over the news organisation's reporting, according to the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China (FCCC).

Sudworth left the Mainland last Tuesday (March 23) and has relocated with his family to Taiwan. He had been reporting from China for more than nine years, first in Shanghai and then Beijing. His wife, Yvonne Murray, is also a journalist who covers China for Ireland’s RTÉ.

In a BBC radio interview, Sudworth said he and his family left "in a hurry" and were followed to the airport by plain-clothes police officers. In the interview that aired Wednesday (March 31), he said his departure made clear "the true grim reality for reporters" in China.

The FCCC said the reporter's abrupt departure came amid concerns for his safety and that of his family.

In a statement to media outlets, China’s foreign ministry denied threatening the reporter and said Sudworth had not given any notice of his departure. 

For the past two years, Sudworth had been unable to secure a visa that lasted more than a few months, which the FCCC said appeared to be in retaliation of his coverage of alleged human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region, as well as the Covid pandemic and other stories.

The BBC said in a statement: "John's reporting has exposed truths the Chinese authorities did not want the world to know. The BBC is proud of John’s award-winning reporting during his time in Beijing and he remains our China correspondent."

China blocked BBC World News from broadcasting in February in response to what the Chinese embassy in London called "relentless fabrication of ‘lies of the century’ in reporting China". The ban followed the publication of a BBC report that detailed how women in Xinjiang’s internment camps for Uyghurs were subject to rape, sexual abuse and torture.

Sudworth's departure comes as part of a broader retraction of foreign press in China. At least 18 journalists were expelled from the country in 2020, including reporters from the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, among others.

In February a Chinese-born Australian journalist based in Beijing, Cheng Lei, who had previously worked for state media outlet CGTN, was arrested on charges of supplying state secrets overseas. Cheng had been detained in China for nearly six months before being formally arrested.

The FCCC says foreign journalists are "being caught up in diplomatic rows out of their control", and that the country's "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".

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