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BBC Correspondent Leaves China, Citing Growing Risks

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John Sudworth left with his family after a propaganda campaign against him that followed coverage of the origins of Covid-19 and of a crackdown on Muslim minorities.

The BBC’s John Sudworth, left, interviewing President Tsai Ing-Wen of Taiwan last January. The BBC’s John Sudworth, left, interviewing President Tsai Ing-Wen of Taiwan last January.Credit…Taiwan Presidential Office/EPA, via Shutterstock Amy Qin

April 1, 2021

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TAIPEI, Taiwan — A China correspondent for the BBC has left Beijing after coming under intense pressure and being threatened over the British public broadcaster’s coverage of subjects like the origins of Covid-19 and the government’s crackdown on Muslim minorities in the far western region of Xinjiang.

The correspondent, John Sudworth, said on Wednesday that the decision had been made after an intensifying propaganda campaign targeting him and the BBC that had emerged in recent months. He also cited legal threats as well as the increasing difficulty of doing independent reporting in China without obstruction or harassment.

“As a result of these rising risks and increasing difficulties, the decision was made that after tolerating it for so long we should relocate,” Mr. Sudworth told the BBC in a video statement filmed in Taipei, where he is undergoing a mandatory 14-day quarantine.

The BBC reported that Mr. Sudworth, who was based in China for nine years, had left Beijing along with his wife, Yvonne Murray, a reporter for the Irish public broadcaster RTE, and their three young children. Both Mr. Sudworth and Ms. Murray have said they will continue to cover China from Taipei.

The departures of Mr. Sudworth and Ms. Murray are part of a larger recent exodus of foreign journalists from China. Last year, the Chinese government expelled around 15 correspondents for American news organizations, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. Some of the expulsions were framed as retaliation for the Trump administration’s move to restrict the number of Chinese journalists allowed to work in the United States.

“John’s work has exposed truths the Chinese authorities did not want the world to know,” the BBC said in a statement posted on Twitter.

Ms. Murray said in an interview with RTE’s “News at One” program on Wednesday that the family had left in a hurry last week and that plainclothes police officers had followed them from their home to the airport.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman said on Thursday that the authorities had not been given prior notice of Mr. Sudworth’s departure, as is typically required of departing foreign journalists. The Chinese state news media has reported that residents in Xinjiang are preparing to sue the BBC over its reports on the region.

ImageThe BBC’s Beijing Bureau. The broadcaster has been criticized and threatened with lawsuits by the Chinese government over its coverage of several issues.  The BBC’s Beijing Bureau. The broadcaster has been criticized and threatened with lawsuits by the Chinese government over its coverage of several issues. Credit…Noel Celis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“What is he running from? Why did he leave mainland China in such a hurry? What is he worried about? What is he scared of?” the spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, said during a regularly scheduled news briefing. “There can only be one rational explanation, and that is a guilty conscience.”

Ms. Hua accused the BBC of biased, inaccurate reporting that had resulted in a “serious negative effect on China’s national image.”

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