Australian journalist Cheng Lei was formally arrested in China on 5 February on suspicion of illegally supplying state secrets abroad, after being detained for six months without charge.
Cheng, 49, was a news anchor for CGTN, the international arm of the Chinese regime’s state broadcaster, CCTV, before being detained in Beijing in August 2020 in the midst of a testamentary relationship between Canberra and Beijing.
On Monday, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the government had expressed its “serious concerns” with the Chinese regime about Cheng’s routine detention at senior levels, including about her health and conditions of detention.
“In accordance with our bilateral consular agreement with China, Australian embassy officials have visited Cheng six times since her detention, most recently on 27 January 2021,” Payne said.
“In accordance with international standards, we expect fundamental standards of justice, procedural fairness and humane treatment to be met,” she said. “During this difficult period, our thoughts are with Ms. Cheng and her family.”
Louisa Wen, the niece of Cheng, told the Australian public broadcaster ABC that when they were first informed of her arrest, the family was surprised.
“There’s nothing we understand about the case,” Wen said. “But we do know that she has been in detention for five and a half months, and her circumstances are getting worse.”
The children of Cheng, 11 and 9, are being looked after in Melbourne by their grandmother and, according to the ABC, they keep asking when their mother is going to come home.
On Aug. 14, 2020, the Australian government was first officially informed of Cheng’s detention.
As bilateral tensions intensified over issues such as trade, the tightening influence of Beijing over Hong Kong, and the Chinese regime’s handling of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus outbreak, she was the second Chinese Australian detained by Chinese authorities since 2019.
Cheng returned to China after graduating from the University of Queensland to become a business analyst for a Sino-Australian joint venture in 2001, then, according to her CGTN profile page, started her journalism career at China’s state broadcaster CCTV a year later. The profile, along with videos showcasing Cheng’s previous reports, have since been deleted from the website.
After working for nine years as a CNBC China reporter, she started working at the Beijing office of CGTN in 2012.
In July 2020, Australia first warned its citizens in a travel advisory that if they travel to mainland China they will run the risk of ‘arbitrary detention,’ noting that Chinese authorities have detained foreigners for ‘endangering national security.’