The family of Australian journalist Cheng Lei has urged Chinese authorities to act swiftly and compassionately on concluding the matter, after learning she has been formally arrested, almost six months after she was detained in Beijing in August last year.
Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne shared on Monday that Chinese authorities have confirmed Lei was “formally arrested” on February 5. She has not been charged with anything.
Details of the accusations are vague, with Senator Payne noting that: “Chinese authorities have advised that Ms Cheng was arrested on suspicion of illegally supplying state secrets overseas.”
Senator Payne also confirmed that Australian Embassy officials have visited Cheng six times since her detention, most recently on the 27th January.
“We expect basic standards of justice, procedural fairness and humane treatment to be met, in accordance with international norms,” Senator Payne said.
“Our thoughts are with Ms Cheng and her family during this difficult period.”
Cheng is a single mother of two children, 11 and nine, who are now in their grandmother’s care. Her family had broken their silence just prior to this latest news, with the ABC reporting her children are devastated and keep asking when she’s coming home.
Cheng’s family has also told ABC that they don’t know why she’s been detained, and that her conditions — in a cell without natural sunlight or fresh air — are worsening.
Cheng’s children had been sent from Beijing to Melbourne during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, before we knew the extent and length of border closures and travel restrictions. Cheng had hoped to reunite with them there.
ABC journalist Bill Birtles later released a statement from the family who said they have been advised of the development by DFAT.
“We are absolutely convinced of her innocence, inclose consultation with DFAT and supporting her children in every way we can.”
The family said they respect China’s judicial process and urge authorities “to bring this matter to a swift, compassionate and timely conclusion whilst at all times respecting her rights with the knowledge that she is the mother of two young and vulnerable children who need her.”
They also urged authorities to grant Lei to have contact with her children, as well as access to basic items such as reading materials.
They also spoke of Cheng’s love of China. “Whilst a long time Australian citizen, Lei also has a great love for the country of her birth and is highly respected across the globe.”
Born in China, Cheng moved with her parents to Brisbane when she was nine years old. She studied accounting in Queensland and later worked as a financial analyst for Cadbury Schweppes and ExxonMobil in Melbourne before moving with her family overseas to work in media. She spent time with CNBC in Singapore where she was the China Correspondent, as well as Chinese state-run TV. She had been anchoring a show for China’s state television network CGTN when she was detained in August 2020.
Cheng has become a high profile news anchor during her 18 years in journalism, conducting numerous interviews with international CEOs and business leaders.
Her biography page (including the above photo) was removed from CGTN’s website.
The Committee to Protect Journalists said Chinese authorities must “release her immediately” if they can’t “disclose their reasons for holding” her.
Under China’s criminal code, providing state secrets can carry a prison sentence of five to 10 years or longer.