China: Australian journalist to face trial in Beijing

Australian journalist Cheng Lei will be tried in Beijing on March 31 after being detained for 19 months on national security charges. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its Australian affiliate, Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA), call on the Chinese government to drop its accusation against Cheng and release her immediately.

Australian journalist and broadcaster Cheng Lei. Credit: Twitter

Cheng, who served as an anchor of the Chinese state media China Global Television Network (CGTN) for eight years until her arrest in August 2020, has been accused of “supplying state secrets to an overseas organisation or individual.”

On March 26, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne’s office confirmed that Cheng would face trial on March 31, adding “we expect basic standards of justice, procedural fairness and humane treatment to be met, in accordance with international norms.”

It is reported that Cheng’s case will be heard in a closed court at Beijing No.2 People's Intermediate Court. According to China's criminal law, an individual found guilty of providing state secrets or intelligence overseas faces a sentence of five to ten years, and even life imprisonment if the offence is considered serious.

Cheng was born in Yueyang, Hunan Province, in 1975 and emigrated to Australia with her parents at the age of ten. She has two children aged ten and twelve. Both returned to Australia at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and are currently being cared for by Cheng’s family in Melbourne.

A member of Cheng’s family in Australia previously told the media that they believed Cheng would not have done anything intentionally to harm China's state security.

The journalist’s case came at a time of heightened tension between Australia and China, after the Australian government in 2020 called for an independent probe into the origin of Covid-19. Beijing responded by imposing restrictions and punitive measures on Australian exports.

The MEAA, which has campaigned for the release of Cheng, an MEAA member since 2009, said “her arrest, her detention, and the accusations against her have never been explained.”

The MEAA said, We urge the Chinese government to drop the charges against our colleague, and to show compassion by allowing her to return home to Australia to be with her young family.”

The IFJ said, “Cheng Lei has been placed under detention for 19 months, and the authorities have not revealed any details of the allegation against Cheng to date. The IFJ expresses concern over the lack of transparency over the case and demands that the Chinese government drop its arbitrary charge against Cheng and release her immediately so she can return home to Australia.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on ifj@ifj-asia.org

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

Twitter: @ifjasiapacific, on Facebook: IFJAsiaPacific and Instagram