BBC correspondent forced out of Beijing by ‘pressure and threats’

David Hughes, PA Political Editor
·3-min read

Threats from the Chinese authorities have forced the BBC’s correspondent John Sudworth to flee to Taiwan.

Mr Sudworth said he had faced surveillance, obstruction and intimidation as he reported on issues including human rights abuses in Xinjiang province and the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.

The BBC said he had “exposed truths the Chinese authorities did not want the world to know” and he would continue his work as China correspondent from Taiwan.

The Foreign Office said it was “deeply concerned about the lack of media freedoms and the deteriorating situation for journalists” in China and said the UK had raised the issue regularly with Beijing.

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Mr Sudworth told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “Over the last few years the pressure and threats from the Chinese authorities as a result of my reporting here have been pretty constant.

“But in recent months they have intensified, the BBC has faced a full-on propaganda attack not just aimed at the organisation itself but at me personally, across multiple Communist-party controlled platforms.

“We have faced threats of legal action as well as massive surveillance now, obstruction and intimidation whenever and wherever we try to film.

“In the end we, as a family based in Beijing, along with the BBC, decided it was just too risky to carry on – which is, of course, sadly precisely the point of that kind of intimidation – and we have relocated to Taiwan.”

Mr Sudworth said other foreign journalists had been forced to make similar journeys to Taiwan, where there is much greater press freedom.

“We left in a hurry, followed by plain clothed police all the way to the airport and through the check-in hall, the true grim reality for reporters here being made clear all the way to the very end.”

The Global Times, a Chinese state-run website, reported that Mr Sudworth “who became infamous in China for his many biased stories distorting China’s Xinjiang policies and Covid-19 responses, has left the Chinese mainland and is now believed to be hiding in Taiwan”.

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Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, said: “The closing down of any pretence at media freedom in China is leaving citizens exposed to greater danger from a vengeful Communist Party.

“John Sudworth has been heroic in exposing abuses, but the risk to journalists is now extremely high and like many others who have reported on the abuses of Chinese citizens, he has understandably decided his family can no longer carry the risk.”

Mr Tugendhat was one of nine British critics of China, including five MPs and two peers, who were sanctioned by Beijing in response to the UK’s imposition of asset freezes and travel bans on individuals and organisations linked to the abuses in Xinjiang.