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China accuses Australian journalist of 'supplying state secrets'

The Australian government has raised "serious concerns" about Ceng Lei's detention

The Australian government has raised "serious concerns" about Ceng Lei's detention

Six months after being detained in China, journalist Cheng Lei was formally arrested on suspicion of illegally supplying state secrets overseas, China and Australia's foreign ministries said on Monday.

The Chinese born journalist is a high-profile and well-known TV presenter with China's state-run English news channel CTGN.

She was detained last August, although her formal arrest wasn't made until February 5, officials said. The move now triggers an official criminal investigation into Cheng.

If found guilty, she could reportedly face life in prison or even death.

"We expect basic standards of justice, procedural fairness and humane treatment to be met, in accordance with international norms. Our thoughts are with Ms. Cheng and her family during this difficult period," the Australian foreign ministry said in a statement. 

The mother-of-two was born in Hunan province of China. She emigrated to Australia as a child and became an Australian national. She later returned to her country of birth to build her broadcast career in 2012. 

"Cheng's 11-year-old daughter and nine-year-old son do not fully understand the situation. It had been quite tough on the kids wondering what's going on," Cheng's niece Louisa Wen told Australian broadcaster ABC. 

Critical posts on social media

While the details of the charges levied against Cheng remain unclear, the journalist had been critical of China's approach to the coronavirus pandemic on social media.

One of her posts took a sarcastic view at President Xi Jinping's visit to Wuhan last March.

"The big story today, Dear Leader's visit, triggered titters in the newsroom — waving to a big TV screen showing the coronavirus hospital in Wuhan apparently equals a visit."

On Facebook, she also praised a censored interview with Ai Fen, a doctor who was one of the first to sound the alarm about the emergence of the novel coronavirus in Wuhan.

China and Australia's strained relations

Cheng's detention comes amid a low point in relations between Australia and China.

Beijing has been critical of Canberra blocking Chinese investment in sensitive sectors as well as investigations into Chinese influence on public life in Australia. 

China was also angered at Australia's call to investigate the origins of coronavirus and responded with sanctions on Australia's exports. 

Shortly after Cheng's detention in August, two Australian journalists Bill Birtles and Micheal Smith sought protection in Australian diplomatic missions out of fear of also being detained. They later fled China. 

Cheng was the second high-profile Australian to be detained by the Chinese authorities. Writer Yang Hengjun was arrested in January 2019 on suspicion of espionage.

bj/rs (AFP, dpa)


Updated : 2021-05-08 19:42 GMT+08:00