Five Voice of America (VOA) journalists who produced an interview with billionaire Guo Wengui airing corruption allegations in China have been suspended by the US-funded network.
US-based producer Dong Fang wrote on Twitter on Tuesday that he received written notice from his superiors saying he would be investigated for an unspecified period of time.
He added that journalists Gong Xiaoxia, Yang Chen, Bao Shen and Li Su were also suspended – the latter was escorted out by two armed guards from VOA’s headquarters in Washington DC.
Reports emerged as early as last week claiming that Dong, Gong and Yang were asked to “take a holiday.”
VOA abruptly cut its live-streamed interview with Guo two weeks ago as he mentioned allegations involving Wang Qishan – China’s number two leader after President Xi Jinping.
As secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline, Wang is leading an anti-corruption campaign investigating numerous senior officials and businessmen across the country.
Guo, an outspoken critic of the Communist Party who left China two years ago, later claimed that pressure from Beijing forced VOA to halt the interview. He is currently being sought by Interpol.
In response to the journalists’ reported suspensions on Tuesday, Guo wished the journalists well on Twitter. “China’s 1.4 billion people currently live in darkness [as if it were] 2am,” wrote Guo. “These dark forces have arrived at the great United States of America!”
Interviewed by Apple Daily the same day, he accused several VOA staffers of having “complicated relations with Beijing’s security, intelligence and diplomatic departments,” which would make the network susceptible to Chinese influence.
Dong also said he had not expected to face such treatment from the broadcaster. “It is my luck that salary will be paid as normal, and I don’t have any livelihood concerns at the moment,” he wrote on Twitter.
“During the period of suspension I will not be able to participate in activities in the name of VOA, including writing and reporting.”
‘Verification, balance and fairness’
A VOA spokesperson confirmed to HKFP that the five journalists have been placed on administrative leave pending a full investigation, but denied that the decision was made following Chinese pressure.
“The decisions regarding the interview with Guo Wengui were made by a group of senior VOA leaders led by director Amanda Bennett and included deputy director Sandy Sugawara, language program director Kelu Chao, and East Asia division director Norm Goodman,” said the spokesperson.
“The decisions were based on the journalistic principles of verification, balance and fairness that are standard industry practice and apply universally to all VOA services,” she added.
“There was no input whatsoever from the US government, nor would the firewall permit any such input. Pressure from the Chinese government played no role in any decision-making.”
HKFP has also contacted Guo for comment.