Australia says journalist arrested in China for 'supplying state secrets'

WION Web Team
Sydney, Australia Published: Feb 08, 2021, 08:00 AM(IST)

File photo: Scott Morrison and Xi Jinping Photograph:( Twitter )

Story highlights

Australia's foreign minister Marise Payne said Chinese authorities informed her that Cheng Lei was formally arrested on February 5, after disappearing from public view and being detained last August

An Australian news anchor for Chinese state television has been formally arrested and accused of "illegally supplying state secrets overseas", Canberra said Monday, six months after she was detained in China without explanation.

Australia's foreign minister Marise Payne said Chinese authorities informed her that Cheng Lei was formally arrested on February 5, after disappearing from public view and being detained last August.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry told a media briefing that the Australian journalist for Chinese state television is suspected of carrying out illegal activities that endanger the country’s security.

“The Australian national Cheng Lei is suspected of carrying out criminal activities endangering China’s national security, and compulsory measures have been taken and an investigation is underway by the relevant authority,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said.

Payne said Australian diplomats had visited Cheng six times since she was detained, most recently on January 27.

"The Australian Government has raised its serious concerns about Ms Cheng's detention regularly at senior levels, including about her welfare and conditions of detention," she said.

"We expect basic standards of justice, procedural fairness and humane treatment to be met, in accordance with international norms."

Cheng was the second high-profile Australian citizen to be held in Beijing after writer Yang Hengjun was arrested in January 2019 on suspicion of espionage. Her detention sent shock waves through China's foreign journalist community. 

She has written a number of Facebook posts critical of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Beijing's approach to the coronavirus outbreak.

One post poked fun at Xi's visit in March to Wuhan, the Covid-19 ground zero: "The big story today, Dear Leader's visit, triggered titters in the newsroom, waving to a big TV screen showing the coronavirus hospital in Wuhan apparently equals a visit."

Two other Australian reporters, Bill Birtles and Michael Smith, fled China last September shortly after being interrogated about Cheng.

The incident is bound to further sour already tense relations between the two nations.

Australia’s ties with top trade partner China soured in 2018 when it became the first country to publicly ban China’s Huawei from its 5G network, and worsened after Canberra called for an enquiry into the origins of the coronavirus.

Tit-for-tat diplomatic reprisals have since followed, including raids on the homes of Chinese journalists in Australia, evacuation of some Australian journalists from China and a raft of trade measures imposed by China on Australian exports.

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