Australian Reporter For Chinese State Media Detained Without Charge In China


Cheng Lei, an Australian anchor for Chinese Communist Party-run media outlet China Global Television Network, has been detained by Chinese officials for weeks despite no apparent charge.

Currently being held under “residential surveillance at a designated location,” Cheng’s arrest comes amidst tensions between Australia and China which have dramatically increased following COVID-19. After Australian officials demanded an inquiry into the source of the virus, the Chinese Communist Party sought retribution by placing tariffs on agricultural imports, halting purchases of Australian beef, and cracking down on imports including wine.

Tensions between the two countries, however, had been souring since at least 2018 following scandals involving China’s manipulation of Australian politics.

And Cheng appears to be the latest flashpoint.

An Australian citizen, Cheng has been detained without charge since August 14th, and Chinese officials have could not be reached for comment by Australian media outlet.

Cheng served as a business reporter since 2013 for China Global Television Network (CGTN), a Chinese Communist Party-run media outlet, which now appears to have scrubbed her bio page and previous work from its site.

Cheng’s friends and colleagues became suspicious of her whereabouts when she failed to reply to messages in recent weeks, with the Australian government now confirming that she has been detained.

In a statement from Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne:

“The Australian Government has been informed that an Australian citizen, Ms. Cheng Lei, has been detained in China. Formal notification was received on 14th of August from Chinese authorities of her detention. Australian officials had an initial consular visit with Ms. Cheng at a detention facility via video link on 27th of August and will continue to provide assistance and support to her and her family.”

Cheng’s family, which includes two young children, have also issued a statement:

“As a family we are aware of the current situation with regard to Cheng Lei’s status as advised by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. We are in close consultation with DFAT and doing everything we can as a family to support Cheng Lei. In China, due process will be observed and we look forward to a satisfactory and timely conclusion to the matter. We ask that you respect that process and understand there will be no further comment at this time.”

The arrest comes on the heels of an ominous July warning from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade warning citizens they could face “arbitrary detention” if they visited China.

And Cheng had spoken positively of Australia while praising its government’s education system as part of a promotional video for Australia’s department of foreign affairs:

“Australian education and Australian cultures and values are all enmeshed together and that means a lot of respect for freedom, a lot of respect for creativity, individuality. And I think that has helped me so much in my work. It allows you that freedom to think for yourself, to question even textbooks, even professors, and to judge for yourself, which is critical in journalism.”
Cheng’s arrest is eerily similar to that of Australian citizen Yang Hengjun, an advocate for democracy in China, who has spent over 18 months in jail following an arrest by the Beijing State Security Bureau. His arrest has similarly lacked transparency.
While the story is still developing, Cheng appears to be the latest victim in the Chinese Communist Party’s tactic of hostage diplomacy.

Natalie Winters

Natalie Winters is freelance reporter.

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