An Australian presenter of the Chinese channel CGTN was officially arrested for “revealing state secrets abroad”, six months after being taken into custody in August. Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said on Monday that she had been informed of her arrest on February 5 by Chinese authorities.
The mother of two is accused of having “illegally provided state secrets abroad,” the Australian minister said in a statement. Cheng Lei, a well-known presenter of the CGTN channel, which broadcasts the Beijing point of view in English, notably conducted interviews with business leaders from around the world.
Beijing confirmed this arrest through the voice of a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Wang Wenbin. “We hope Australia will respect China’s judicial sovereignty and stop interfering in its handling of this case in any way,” he said.
Context of bilateral tensions
Born in China, Cheng Lei had emigrated to Australia during her childhood before returning to her country of birth and being hired by public television in 2012. As Beijing does not recognize dual nationality, the presenter is only of Australian nationality. .
If Cheng Lei is found guilty of violating China’s “national security” laws, she faces a heavy penalty. Her niece Louisa Wen told Australian ABC television that “in this case her family does not understand anything.” According to her, the situation is particularly “difficult” for the presenter’s 11-year-old daughter and for her 9-year-old son.
The journalist has been taken into custody amid growing bilateral tensions between Beijing and Canberra. Diplomatic relations had deteriorated markedly at the beginning of 2020 after the call launched by Canberra for an international investigation into the origin of the new coronavirus, spotted for the first time in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
Australia also blames Beijing for its growing influence in Asia-Pacific and its alleged interference in Australian affairs. China has taken a host of economic retaliatory measures against more than a dozen Australian products, including barley, beef, wine and coal.
Visit of Australian diplomats
Cheng Lei’s detention came weeks after the homes of journalists working for Chinese state media in Australia were searched. Shortly after, two Australian journalists, Bill Birtles and Mike Smith, rushed back to their country in September after being questioned about Cheng Lei.
According to Payne, Australian diplomats have visited the presenter six times since her arrest, most recently on January 27. “The Australian government has regularly expressed, at the highest level, its serious concerns about the detention of Ms. Cheng, especially with regard to her well-being and conditions of detention,” said the Minister. “We fully expect that the fundamental principles of justice, procedural fairness and humane treatment will be respected, in accordance with international rules.”
Cheng Lei is the second prominent Australian citizen to be detained by China following the arrest of writer Yang Hengjun in January 2019 on suspicion of espionage. His detention had caused a stir among the community of foreign journalists in the Asian country. Cheng Lei had notably written a message on Facebook in which she quipped on an ultra-secure visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to the city of Wuhan (central China) during the Covid-19 epidemic.
Original article by : www.leparisien.fr