Beijing has formally charged an Australian journalist who worked for the Chinese national broadcaster for years with supplying state secrets abroad, the foreign ministry of China said on 8 February. The journalist had been detained months ago.
A presenter with China’s only official English news channel, CGTN, the security personnel had arrested China-born Cheng Lei on 14 August.
Beijing confirmed her arrest on 8 February, saying her legal rights would be guaranteed. Earlier in the day, Australian authorities in Sydney confirmed that Cheng, 49, was arrested on 5 February on suspicion of illegally supplying state secrets overseas. “We are absolutely convinced of her innocence,” a family representative said in an emailed statement to news agency Reuters.
Two young children of Cheng live in Australia.
In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin confirmed the arrest at the regular ministry briefing. Judicial authorities in China 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 said, “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 by then removed all of Cheng’s work and wiped off her byline from their website soon after she was detained last year.
In September, China said Cheng had been 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 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.”