Cheng Lei Released From Jail in China



Australian TV journalist Cheng Lei has returned to her home country after three years in jail in China, the Australian government said on Wednesday.

Born in China, but holding an Australian passport, having grown up in Melbourne, Cheng was a high-profile TV anchor for CGTN, the international broadcast arm of state-owned China Central Television. She fronted the “Global Business” daily show. However, she was detained in August 2020, held in detention and formally arrested in February 2021 on espionage charges.

China’s Ministry of State Security said that Cheng had been approached by a foreign organization in May 2020 and provided them with state secrets she had obtained on the job in violation of a confidentiality clause signed with her employer. A police statement did not name the organization or say what the secrets were, AP news reports.

Later a closed-door court sentenced her to two years and 11 months of prison.

“Her release follows the completion of judicial processes in China,” Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said. She has been reunited with her children in Melbourne.

Australia and China have been increasingly at odds over several years, with flashpoints including perceived Chinese influence in Australian politics and business, 5G network equipment, territorial claims in the South China Sea, and Australia’s call for an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus.

China has responded to what it sees as Australia’s provocations with retaliatory actions against imports of Australian grain, beef, iron ore, coal and wine.

In 2019, China also arrested Australian writer and businessman Yang Hengjun. And in 2018 it expelled Chris Buckley an Australian journalist with the New York Times. Two other Australian journalists fled the country in September, after being questioned about Cheng.

China has recently detained other journalists including Bloomberg staff member Haze Fan on suspicion of “criminal activities that jeopardize national security,” and journalist and filmmaker Du Fan for “picking quarrels and making trouble.”

In recent months the high-level tensions between China and Australia have eased somewhat and Albanese is reported to be planning a trip later this year to China.

Despite the thaw, foreign executives have increasingly become subject to detention or exit bans in China. Exit bans have this year been imposed on an investment banker working for Japanese finance firm Nomura and a U.S. executive working for risk advisory firm Kroll.

Yang Hengjun, a China-born Australian writer has been in jail in China for more than three years and was tried on espionage charges in 2021. A Japanese pharmaceuticals executive is in detention since March, but he has not been formally arrested or charged. Canadian Robert Schellenberg was sentenced to death on drugs charges in early 2019 at a time when Canada and China were at loggerheads over the arrest and detention in Vancouver of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.


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