The BBC’s China correspondent John Sudworth has left China after the communist regime issued threats of legal action against him and his team.
In a statement posted on Twitter on March 31, the BBC said Sudworth had relocated to Taiwan from Beijing.
— BBC News Press Team (@BBCNewsPR) March 31, 2021
“John’s work has exposed truths the Chinese authorities did not want the world to know,” the British broadcaster stated.
“The BBC is proud of John’s award-winning reporting during his time in Beijing and he remains our China correspondent.”
Sudworth and his family were followed to the airport and into the check-in area by plainclothes police officers, the BBC reported.
According to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC), Sudworth “left mainland China at short notice on March 23 amid concerns for his safety and that of his family.”
1/Statement on Journalist Departures:
The FCCC is concerned and saddened to learn that John Sudworth, the BBC’s award-winning China correspondent for the last nine years, left mainland China at short notice on March 23rd amid concerns for his safety and that of his family.
— Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (@fccchina) March 31, 2021
His wife, Yvonne Murray, the China correspondent of the Irish broadcaster RTE, left with him.
“Sudworth left after months of personal attacks and disinformation targeting him and his BBC colleagues, disseminated by both Chinese state media and Chinese government officials,” the FCCC said in a statement posted on Twitter.
“These included videos posted online by state media that named him and used footage of him obtained from Chinese police cameras.”
The FCCC said the Chinese authorities had issued Sudworth only short visas lasting one, three, and six months for the past two years, apparently “in retaliation for his coverage of Xinjiang, the COVID-19 pandemic and other issues that Chinese foreign ministry officials repeatedly said had crossed ‘red lines.’”
The threats intensified after the UK’s broadcasting regulator Ofcom on Feb. 4 revoked the license of CGTN, an international English-language satellite news channel directly controlled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
The Chinese regime announced on Feb. 11 that it was pulling BBC World News off the air in China.
On March 18, the Global Times, a Chinese propaganda outlet, quoted a Xinjiang official as saying “a number of individuals” in the region were planning “to sue BBC for producing fake news, spreading rumours about Xinjiang and slandering China’s policy in its Xinjiang region.”
“Alarmingly, Chinese authorities have also shown a greater willingness to threaten journalists with legal measures, proceedings that could subject them to exit bans, barring them from leaving China,” the FCCC stated.
In September 2020, the Australian government evacuated two journalists from China after the authorities tried to prevent them from leaving.
Bill Birtles from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Mike Smith from the Australian Financial Review spent five days sheltering at diplomatic missions until they were allowed to leave.
Victoria Kelly-Clark contributed to this report.