Australia says China has formally arrested TV anchor for spying | Media Information

Cheng Lei, who has been detained for nearly six months, is charged with “illegally delivering state secrets overseas”.

Cheng Lei, an Australian journalist who worked as a presenter for Chinese state television, was formally arrested for “illegally shipping state secrets overseas,” Australia said on Monday, almost six months after she suddenly disappeared in China.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the Chinese authorities had informed her that Cheng Lei was officially arrested on February 5. She was last seen in August.

“The Chinese authorities have announced that Ms. Cheng has been arrested on suspicion of illegally delivering state secrets overseas,” Payne said in a statement.

Cheng was picked up in August and held in what China calls “Residential Detection in a Specific Location” (RSDL), a form of detention where authorities detain people for up to six months without access to family members or a lawyer.

Her family told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) that their two children, who now live with their grandmother in Melbourne, have been devastated by their disappearance.

“I think when you’re nine and eleven you’re old enough to understand a little why mom isn’t here or why mom can’t contact you,” Louisa Wen, Cheng’s niece and family spokeswoman, told ABC. “But I feel like the kids don’t fully understand the situation, so it’s probably quite difficult for the kids to wonder what’s going on.”

Cheng was one of the most famous presenters for CGTN, interviewing top managers for the broadcaster’s global business and BizTalk shows. Her children had returned to Australia after the COVID-19 outbreak closed their school in Beijing early last year.

Cheng was arrested shortly after Australia raided the homes of four Chinese journalists in Sydney who worked for the country’s state media. Tensions were already high amid concerns over Chinese influence and interference in Australian universities and after the Australian government called for an international investigation into the origins of the coronavirus.

Beijing has since introduced trade tariffs and anti-dumping checks on several Australian products, including wine, beef, barley and coal.

Payne said Australian diplomats have visited Cheng six times since she was incarcerated, most recently on Jan. 27.

“The Australian government has raised serious concerns about the regular high-level detention of Ms. Cheng, including her welfare and detention conditions,” she said.

“We expect that the basic standards of justice, procedural justice and humane treatment in accordance with international norms are met.”

Cheng’s family said her detention conditions would worsen and restrictions on moving and writing letters would be tightened.

Cheng became the second high-profile Australian citizen to be detained in Beijing after writer Yang Hengjun was arrested in January 2019 on suspicion of espionage.

Her detention raised the alarm among foreign journalists in China, and two other Australian reporters – Bill Birtles and Michael Smith – fled the country last September shortly after being questioned about Cheng.

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