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Chinese media piles scorn on expelled French reporter

December 28, 2015

Chinese media on Monday celebrated the imminent expulsion of a French reporter accused of supporting terrorism, with a poll purporting to demonstrate overwhelming support for the decision.

Beijing refused to renew Ursula Gauthier’s visa after she published an article criticising government policies in Xinjiang, home to the mostly Muslim Uighur minority and a region which regularly sees violent incidents.

China’s foreign ministry last week said her essay in French news magazine L’Obs “flagrantly championed acts of terrorism and acts of cruelly killing innocents”.

The government’s decision to expel Gauthier was approved by 95 percent of respondents to a poll on the web site of the Global Times, an often incendiary publication with close ties to the ruling Communist Party.

The poll, which asked “Do you support expelling the French journalist who supports terrorism?”, had more than 200,000 respondents by Monday afternoon.

Among those who disagreed, many felt that the punishment was not harsh enough: “This kind of terrorist sympathiser should be arrested and sentenced to prison,” wrote one poster.

China commands a vast army of Internet commenters it can deploy to express vocal support for controversial decisions, which are notorious for filling the Global Times’ comments sections with bile directed at those who criticise the state and its ruling Communist Party.

The paper was one of the first to object to Gauthier’s story, publishing a scathing criticism of her suggestion that violence by Uighurs against civilians might, in part, be driven by resentment against government policies.

She also questioned China’s motives in expressing sympathy for the victims of the November 13 Paris attacks, writing that they could be part of a calculated plan to tie Beijing’s strict handling of Xinjiang into the broader fight against global terrorism.

The article, the Global Times wrote in a November editorial, “severely distorted the reality in Xinjiang” and represented a double standard on terrorism.

The piece was part of a tidal wave of criticism that Gauthier said led to death threats against her from angry readers.

The Global Times is known for its nationalistic stance. Following the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris earlier this year it said the murders were “payback” for the West’s “historical acts of slavery and colonialism”.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.