In this Aug. 12, 2020, photo, Cheng Lei, a Chinese-born Australian journalist for CGTN, the English-language channel of China Central Television, attends a public event in Beijing. (AP file)
In this Aug. 12, 2020, photo, Cheng Lei, a Chinese-born Australian journalist for CGTN, the English-language channel of China Central Television, attends a public event in Beijing. (AP file)

China charges Aus journo with spying, 6 months after her detention

A presenter for China’s only official English news channel, CGTN, Chinese-born Cheng Lei was taken away by authorities on August 14.
By Sutirtho Patranobis I Edited by Vinod JanardhananSutirtho Patranobis I Edited by Vinod Janardhanan
PUBLISHED ON FEB 08, 2021 04:16 PM IST

An Australian journalist who worked for China’s national broadcaster for years has been formally charged with supplying state secrets abroad, the Chinese foreign ministry said on Monday, months after she was detained.

A presenter for China’s only official English news channel, CGTN, Chinese-born Cheng Lei was taken away by authorities on August 14.

Beijing confirmed her arrest on Monday, saying her legal rights would be guaranteed. Earlier in the day, Australian authorities in Sydney confirmed that Cheng, 49, was arrested on February 5 on suspicion of illegally supplying state secrets overseas. “We are absolutely convinced of her innocence,” a family representative said in an emailed statement to Reuters.

Cheng’s two young children live in Australia.

In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin confirmed the arrest at the regular ministry briefing.

Chinese judicial authorities are handling the case in accordance with laws, and Cheng’s rights are fully guaranteed, he said. “China is a country under rule of law, and all legal rights of the relevant personnel are fully guaranteed,” Wang said.

The spokesperson added: “Australia should respect China’s judicial sovereignty and stop interfering in China’s lawful handling of cases in any way.”

A report on the announcement of Cheng’s arrest on her former employer CGTN’s website didn’t even mention that she was a journalist; CGTN had wiped its websites of Cheng’s work profile soon after she was detained last year.

In September, China said she was being held on charges of endangering “national security”, without sharing details.

Cheng was suspected of involvement in “criminal activity of endangering China’s national security”, the Chinese foreign ministry had announced at the time.

Australian diplomats spoke to her from her detention facility over video at the end of August.

Beijing has arrested or expelled a number of journalists in recent times including the last two Australian media correspondents in China who fled the country following consular advice.

The development coincided with the deteriorating ties between China and Australia following Canberra’s vocal demand for an international investigation into the source of the Covid-19 pandemic; Beijing responded with trade restrictions.

“Whilst a long time Australian citizen, Lei also has a great love for the country of her birth (China) and is highly respected across the globe,” the family statement said, according to the Reuters story.

“We respect China’s judicial process and urge the 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.”

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