An Australian journalist who disappeared from Chinese state television’s airwaves six months ago and was detained by Beijing authorities has been formally arrested for “supplying state secrets overseas.”
Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne yesterday said China had revealed that it had formally arrested Cheng Lei (成蕾) on Friday, after taking her into custody in August last year without explanation.
The mother of two stands accused of “illegally supplying state secrets overseas,” Payne said in a statement, without providing details.
Cheng had been a familiar face on China Global Television Network’s English-language channel, conducting interviews with noted chief executive officers from around the world.
Born in Hunan Province, Cheng is now an Australian national who emigrated to the country as a child, before returning to China and joining the state broadcaster in 2012.
China does not allow citizens to hold dual nationality.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday confirmed the arrest, and said that Cheng’s case is being “processed.”
Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin (汪文斌) called on Australia to “respect China’s judicial sovereignty and stop interfering in China’s handling of the case.”
Cheng faces severe punishment if she is found to have broken China’s national security laws.
Her niece Louisa Wen told Australian Broadcasting Corp that the family did not “understand anything about the case.”
Cheng’s 11-year-old daughter and nine-year-old son “don’t fully understand the situation,” she said, adding that it had been “quite tough on the kids wondering what’s going on.”
Cheng’s detention came as relations between Australia and China cratered.
The timing and lack of information about charges raised speculation that her detention was politically motivated, or a tit-for-tat retaliation.
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