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China refuses visa for Reuters reporter

The Chinese government has refused to issue a visa to a veteran American journalist who had been waiting eight months to begin a new reporting job in China for Reuters.

Paul Mooney, pictured, said the Chinese Foreign Ministry told Reuters on Friday that it would not grant him a resident journalist visa, but declined to provide a reason.

He returned to the United States last year after the expiry of his previous visa, which had been sponsored by Hong Kong-based newspaper The South China Morning Post.

The New York Times, reporting from Beijing, said on Saturday the rejection comes at a time of rising tensions between foreign news organisations and the government, which has been using its economic clout, the issuance of visas and Internet controls to express displeasure with coverage it deems unflattering.

“China has been my career,” said Mooney, 63, who has spent three decades covering Asia, the last 18 years based in Beijing. He told The Times: “I never thought it was going to end this way. I’m sad and disappointed.”

The websites for Bloomberg News and The New York Times have been blocked in China for more than a year following the publication of investigative articles by both news organisations that detailed the wealth accumulated by relatives of top Chinese leaders. Since then, employees for both companies have been awaiting residency visas that would allow them to report from China.

Such tactics appear to have had an impact. On Saturday, the Times gave details of a decision late last month by Bloomberg to withhold publication of an investigative report, more than a year in the works, that explored hidden financial ties between one of China’s wealthiest men and the families of senior Chinese leaders [Bloomberg News Is Said to Curb Articles That Might Anger China]. “Company employees said the editor in chief, Matthew Winkler, defended the decision by comparing it to the self-censorship by foreign news bureaus that sought to remain working inside Nazi Germany.”

Winkler and a senior editor denied that the articles had been killed and said they would eventually be published, the Times reported. It said the Chinese government’s rejection of Mooney’s visa request would certainly add to the anxieties of foreign reporters in China, “many of whom complain of cyber attacks, police interference and intimidation, especially during the annual visa renewal process, currently underway, which sometimes involves interviews with Foreign Ministry officials or public security personnel”.

The Foreign Correspondents Club of China said in a statement: “Such delays and lack of transparency merely add to the impression that the visa process is being used by the authorities to intimidate journalists and media organizations.”

Mooney said he suspected that the government’s decision to deny him a visa was punishment for his persistent coverage of human rights abuses in China. In April, after submitting his visa application to the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco, he was summoned for an interview in which he was questioned about previous articles and asked to explain his position on delicate issues like Tibet. The interview ended with a barely veiled threat. “They said, ‘If we give you a visa, we hope you’ll be more balanced with your coverage’,” he said he was told.

Mooney, now living in Berkeley, California, said Reuters told him that it would not continue pressing China over the issue.

Barb Burg, a spokeswoman for Reuters in New York, said: “We are in the process of considering other posts for Paul within Reuters.” ■

The New York Times