China arrested Chinese-born Australian journalist Cheng Lei on accusations of spying, Australia’s foreign minister Marise Payne announced Monday, according to the Associated Press.
Cheng works for CGTN, which is the China Central Television’s English channel. Payne said the arrest, which happened Friday, was over suspicion of illegally supplying state secrets overseas. Cheng was also detained six months before her arrest in August, the AP noted. (RELATED: LA Times Says One Of Its Reporters Was Grabbed By Throat, Arrested For Hours While Trying To Report In China)
“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,” Payne said. “We expect basic standards of justice, procedural fairness and humane treatment to be met, in accordance with international norms.”
A statement from Cheng Lei’s family.. as her case moves from the initial 6 months of RSDL (incommunicado detention without charge or even official arrest)… to ‘arrest’ on suspicion of leaking state secrets. She hasn’t even been charged yet. Process could take months/years: pic.twitter.com/4MaXagX5pJ
— Bill Birtles (@billbirtles) February 8, 2021
Cheng is potentially facing life in prison or death if convicted, according to the AP. CGTN is closely controlled by China’s Communist Party. Australia warned its citizens shortly before Cheng was detained that the country may randomly detain individuals.
Cheng’s incident is believed to be due to “worsening bilateral relations” after Australia pushed for an independent investigation into how COVID-19 began, the AP reported. Her family is “absolutely convinced of her innocence,” Australian Broadcasting Corp. reporter Bill Birtles noted.
“I believe the episode was more one of harassment of the remaining Australian journalists rather than a genuine effort to try and get anything useful for that case,” Birtles said after learning he was a person of interest regarding Cheng’s case.