After being held captive in China for more than three years, journalist Cheng Lei has returned to her native country, Australia.
When announcing her release, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese stated, “She was met at the airport by the Foreign Minister Penny Wong.”
When Cheng Lei, 48, was detained on August 13, 2020, she was employed as a business reporter for CGTN, China’s state-run English-language TV channel. Later on, she was charged with “illegally supplying state secrets overseas”. Her accusations were never disclosed.
Cheng was sent free at a time when Canberra and Beijing’s icy ties seem to be warming. As a result of growing tensions between the two nations during the pandemic, China banned Australian exports, including barley, coal, and lumber. The first indications of the diplomatic standoff gradually loosening were the lifting of those restrictions early this year.
Following Cheng’s release on Wednesday, Albanese said that it would enable his visit to China at a “mutually agreed time” this year. He also mentioned that Cheng and her two kids were reunited in Melbourne. He added, “Her return brings an end to a very difficult few years for her family. The government has been seeking this for a long period of time and her return will be warmly welcomed not just by her family and friends but by all Australians.” He also said that he talked to over the phone earlier on Wednesday.
He mentioned that her matter “was resolved by the Chinese legal system.”
Cheng was detained in solitary confinement for the first six months following her arrest in China, without being charged. She was put on trial in secret by a Chinese court last March. Graham Fletcher, Australia’s ambassador to China, made an unsuccessful attempt to enter the courtroom in order to see the proceedings. The charges she was facing were likewise unknown to her relatives.
Cheng was deported on Wednesday, according to a statement from China’s Ministry of State Security, following her two years and eleven-month term. It said that she had entered a guilty plea to her charges. Beijing very certainly has counted the period Cheng was detained prior to her trial at the start of 2022.
Cheng was born in China and moved to Melbourne, Australia, with her family when she was ten years old, so her father could continue his PhD studies. After that, she went back to China, where she joined CGTN in 2012.
She wrote an open letter to the Australian people in August, sharing her first public remarks regarding her captivity. The message had been dictated to a group of diplomats who were allowed to talk with her once a month.
“I miss the sun. In my cell, the sunlight shines through the window, but I can stand in it for only 10 hours a year. I can’t believe I used to avoid the sun when I was living back in Australia… It’ll probably rain the first two weeks I’m back in Melbourne. I haven’t seen a tree in three years,” she wrote.