China formally charges Australian journalist Cheng Lei – half year after being detained

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Cheng Lei
Australian journalist Cheng Lei ... charged by Chinese authorities with "illegally supplying state secrets overseas". Image: RSF

Pacific Media Watch newsdesk

The Chinese government has formally charged Australian journalist Cheng Lei with “illegally supplying state secrets overseas”, almost half a year after she was first detained, reports ABC News.

Lei has been held since August last year under a form of detention that allows Chinese police to imprison and question a suspect for up to six months without access to lawyers.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Chinese authorities advised Australia late last week that they had formally charged Lei, meaning an official investigation into her conduct would now begin.

“We have consistently raised concerns [about Cheng Lei] regularly at the most senior levels,” Payne said.

“We have made a number of consular visits to her as part of our bilateral consular agreement – the most recent of those was on the 27th of January – and we continue to seek assurances of her being treated appropriately, humanely and in accordance with international standards, and that will continue to be the case.”

Lei was working as a high profile anchor for China’s state-run English language news service CGTN.

Payne said the charges against Lei were “broad” and she expected the investigation to continue for months.

When asked if the Australian government believed the allegations against Lei were baseless, she said Australia was “seeking further advice in relation to the charges”.

Lei has two young children living with her family in Melbourne.

Last year, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said Lei was “suspected of carrying out criminal activities endangering China’s national security”, but did not provide any further details.

In September, the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) media freedom watchdog and other press freedom groups urged the release of Cheng Lei, who had been detained incommunicado and without charge since 14 August 2020.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ. Pacific Media Watch collaborates with Reporters Without Borders.

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