/ 09 February 2021

Cheng Lei arrested on spy charges

After being held for almost 6 months by Chinese authorities, Australian journalist Cheng Lei has been charged with “illegally supplying state secrets overseas”. An official investigation will now commence as Australian officials seek information on what the charges relate to. Foreign Minister Marise Payne yesterday said that China formally advised Australia of the development late last week and that our officials “continue to seek assurances of her being treated appropriately”.

Cheng is a 46yo single mum and high profile journalist. Born in China, she moved with her parents to Oz when she was 10yo and became an Aussie citizen. Her 2 children are with her family in Melbourne. She was an 8-year veteran of the state-owned English-language news channel CGTN and had previously worked for America’s CNBC. In mid-August last year, Australia was advised that she’d been placed under ‘residential surveillance at a designated location’ in Beijing – a form of detention where it can take 6 months to be arrested, charged, and given access to a lawyer. Reports say she had been critical of the Chinese Government’s coronavirus response. But her detention came as cracks in Australia’s relationship with China were wide, which had experts wondering aloud if that had anything to do with it.

It’s hard to say because China’s wheels of justice don’t turn quickly or transparently… Payne says Australia expects the “basic standards of justice, procedural fairness and humane treatment to be met, in accordance with international norms.” That hasn’t played out for Sydney academic and democracy activist Yang Hengjun – he’s been held by Chinese authorities for 2 years over spying claims. Meanwhile, the official travel advice for Australians needing to go to China remains at the level it was raised to after Cheng’s detention – that they might be “at risk of arbitrary detention.”

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