China: Cheng Lei, Australian host for China news channel detained in Beijing

An Australian television anchor for the Chinese English state news channel, CGTN, is currently being detained by authorities in Beijing. In a statement released on August 31 by Australia’s foreign minister, Marise Payne, the Australian government said it was notified of Cheng Lei’s detention on August 14. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) seeks immediate clarification on the justification for Cheng Lei’s detention and calls for her release.

Cheng Lei. Credit: CGTN

The Australian journalist has worked as an anchor and reporter for CGTN for the past eight years, primarily as a business reporter. Cheng was born in Yueyang, Hunan province, in 1975 and emigrated to Melbourne with her parents at the age of 10. She first worked in China in 2001 as a business analyst and joined CGTN's predecessor, CCTV News, in 2002.  She also worked as a journalist for financial channel CNBC Asia in China and Singapore.

Cheng has not been charged but is being held under "residential surveillance at a designated location", which enables authorities to hold suspects for up to six months and prevent them from seeing lawyers. According to the ABC, Cheng's friends became concerned after she stopped responding to messages in recent weeks.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs statement said: “Australian officials had an initial consular visit with Ms Cheng at a detention facility via video link on 27 August and will continue to provide assistance and support to her and her family.”

Cheng's two children are in Melbourne with family members. In a statement the family has called for caution and said they in “close consultation” with the Australian government.

“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 (DFAT),” the family said in a statement released this week. “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."

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

The IFJ said: “The detention of Cheng Lei without cause or reason is deeply concerning, particularly if it means she has no access to legal support or communication with her family in Australia. We urge for immediate clarification on the circumstances surrounding her detention and call for every effort to resolve the matter promptly to secure her release.”

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

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

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