BBC reporter who covered Xinjiang leaves China for Taiwan in apparent haste

John Sudworth leaves China amid murky legal threats over Xinjiang coverage

BBC journalist John Sudworth (Twitter, John Sudworth photo)

BBC journalist John Sudworth (Twitter, John Sudworth photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The BBC’s most prominent journalist working in China has left the country for Taiwan, according to the news service.

John Sudworth, who worked for the BBC in China for almost a decade, had in recent months come under increasing scrutiny by the Chinese authorities for his reporting on alleged human rights abuses against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang. At times, he was singled out by the country's foreign ministry and state media.

Chinese Communist Party (CCP) mouthpiece the Global Times broke the story early Wednesday afternoon (March 31) in a condemnatory op-ed:

“BBC's Beijing correspondent John 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 island after Xinjiang individuals said they plan to sue BBC for fake news, sources told the Global Times.”

Shortly afterward, the BBC put out a statement on Twitter confirming Sudworth's departure:

“Our correspondent John Sudworth has relocated from Beijing to Taiwan. John’s work has exposed the truths the Chinese authorities did not want the world to know. The BBC is proud of John’s award-winning reporting during his time in Beijing and he remains our China correspondent.”

Although the BBC did not give a reason for Sudworth's relocation, a nebulous legal environment in China combined with acute dissatisfaction on the part of the Beijing authorities over the British broadcaster's coverage of alleged atrocities has led to heightened tension, according to reports.

"A number of individuals in Xinjiang plan to sue BBC for producing fake news, spreading rumors about Xinjiang and slandering China's policy in the region," Global Times quoted one CCP official in Xinjiang as saying.

For its part, the Taiwan Foreign Correspondents’ Club was quick to welcome the new arrival on Twitter, writing that “We hope you feel safe and unencumbered working in Taiwan.”

Last month, BBC World News was banned from broadcasting in China, despite having only been allowed to air in international hotels. The news organization’s app and website had been blocked for years.

The ban followed the U.K.’s revocation of a broadcast license to Chinese state media broadcaster CGTN for airing forced confessions on television. It also came on the heels of BBC reporting on the alleged systematic rape and torture of Uyghur women in Xinjiang’s sprawling detention camps, which by some estimates have over 1 million people.

While Sudworth’s name did not appear on that report, he authored a piece last December detailing China’s use of forced labor in the cotton fields of Xinjiang, allegedly involving hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities. The report also delved into the role that Xinjiang cotton — which makes up a fifth of the world’s total output — plays in the global supply chain for the fashion industry.

Over the years, Sudworth filed many influential reports from China, including a filmed test of China’s so-called Skynet Project in 2017 in which he arranged for police in the Guizhou Province city of Guiyang to find him using facial tracking software.

It took them seven minutes.

Updated : 2021-04-11 23:16 GMT+08:00