China won't say why it refused to renew Al Jazeera English correspondent Melissa Chan's visa, but Chan has some guesses, which she shared with the Los Angeles Times in her first interview since leaving Beijing. Chan's expulsion has meant the end of AJE's China reporting, for now, and AJE has refused to speculate as to why she lost her visa. Chan's back in her hometown of Walnut, California, preparing to start graduate school at Stanford in the fall, and in the meantime she'll work for AJE somewhere other than from China. She doesn't know exactly why China canceled her visa, but as she told the Times' Rosanna Xia, she has some ideas:
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Black Jails: When Chan was first expelled, The Washington Post's Keith Richburg noted that she'd investigated China's so-called black jails, which he described as "a network of secret detention centers." Chan told the Times of her black jails report:
"A lot of journalists have done black jail stories," she said, but hers "was probably the first" to get coverage on TV. "It's also the first time that we got a government official to respond to a question about the existence of black jails." The official denied the black jails existed, "but it was on the record, Chan said, "so that was useful for human rights groups. And that could be one reason why there's the perception that I'm a go-getter."
Too much tweeting: On one reporting trip to the west of China, Chan lost "every translator she had set up because her phones were tapped and police had intimidated them prior to her arrival," Xia reported. Chan tweeted about that experience extensively. "There is a 'strong possibility' that those dispatches played a role in her expulsion, she said. And after three months of short-term visas, 'maybe they were angry that they put me on a tight leash and that didn't stop me,' she said."
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Collateral damage: Another theory that emerged when Chan first lost her visa was the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China's suggestion that she was being punished for a documentary Al Jazeera English produced on Chinese forced labor camps, with which Chan was not involved:
"My understanding is that the Chinese government chose the temporary visas in this case to allow time for discussions with Al Jazeera" about Chan, said Peter Ford, vice president of the correspondents' club, "and when those discussions did not bear fruit, they refused to renew her visa."
Whatever it was, Chan has no immediate plans to go back the country: "I have to face the reality, which is I'm not going back to China any time in the near future, not the way that this has played out," she told the Times.