Australia says ‘deep concerns’ over journalist detained in China

Chinese-Australian Cheng Lei has yet to receive a verdict after more than two and a half years in detention.

Cheng Lei
Chinese-born Australian journalist Cheng Lei has been detained in China since August 2020 [Han Guan/AP]

Australia has expressed “deep concerns” over delays in the case of a Chinese-Australian journalist who has been detained in China for more than two and half years on national security charges.

Cheng Lei, a former television anchor with Chinese state-run TV channel CGTN, has not been handed a verdict or sentence despite facing a closed-door trial in Beijing on March 31, 2022.

Australian diplomats were prevented from attending the proceedings against Cheng, a mother of two, on national security grounds despite an agreement between Canberra and Beijing that is supposed to allow consular access to Australian citizens.

“Today marks one year since Australian citizen, Ms Cheng Lei, faced a closed trial in Beijing on national security charges. 12 months on, she is still waiting to learn the outcome of the trial,” Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said in a statement on Friday.

“We share the deep concerns of Ms Cheng’s family and friends about the ongoing delays in her case. Our thoughts today are with Ms Cheng and her loved ones, particularly her two children.”

Wong added that the Australian government has consistently advocated for Cheng to be reunited with her family, who are in Melbourne, and “afforded basic standards of justice, procedural fairness and humane treatment in accordance with international norms”.

Cheng was detained by authorities in August 2020 before being formally arrested on suspicion of “illegally supplying state secrets overseas” six months later.

Press freedom groups have condemned Cheng’s detention and called for her immediate release.

Wong in January expressed similar concerns about delays in the prosecution of Chinese-Australian writer and blogger Yang Hengjun, who has been detained in China on national security charges since 2019.

Beijing has rejected accusations of improper treatment of Australian citizens and called on Canberra to respect its “judicial sovereignty”.

The cases are among a number of disputes that strained relations between Australia and China in recent years.

Tensions between the sides have eased somewhat since the election of the centre-left Labor Party in May ended nearly a decade of conservative rule.

China last month began accepting shipments of Australian coal again after more than two years of trade restrictions, offloading 72,000 tonnes of the fuel at a port in the southern city of Zhanjiang.

Source: Al Jazeera