Australian Journalist Cheng Lei Released from Chinese Detention


Cheng Lei Homecoming After Three Years

Australian journalist Cheng Lei is finally back home after spending more than three years in detention in China. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced her release, noting that she was warmly welcomed at the airport by Foreign Minister Penny Wong.

Detention and Charges

Cheng Lei, 48, worked as a business reporter for China’s state-run CGTN when she was arrested on August 13, 2020. The charges of “illegally supplying state secrets overseas” were never publicly disclosed, and she was not formally sentenced. Her release coincides with a potential thaw in the strained relations between Australia and China.

Diplomatic Impasse and Thawing Relations

Tensions between Canberra and Beijing heightened during the pandemic, resulting in China banning Australian exports such as barley, coal, and timber. Earlier this year, these restrictions were lifted, indicating a gradual improvement in diplomatic relations. Cheng Lei’s release aligns with these positive developments.

Prime Minister’s Statement about Cheng Lei

Prime Minister Albanese, on Wednesday, expressed that Cheng Lei’s release would facilitate his planned trip to China later this year. He emphasized that her return marked the end of a challenging period for her family and praised the efforts to secure her release.

Cheng Lei and Family Reunion in Melbourne

Cheng Lei has reunited with her two children in Melbourne. Prime Minister Albanese conveyed that her return is not only significant for her family and friends but for all Australians. He shared that he spoke to Cheng Lei over the phone earlier on the same day.

Legal Process in China

Albanese stated that Cheng Lei’s case concluded through the legal processes in China. Following her arrest, she spent the initial six months in solitary confinement without specific charges. The details of her charges and trial were not disclosed, and her family had limited information about her situation.

Deportation and Plea

China’s Ministry of State Security reported that Cheng Lei was deported after serving a sentence of two years and 11 months. The Ministry claimed she pleaded guilty to the charges. Critics suggest that China might be considering even the pre-trial detention period towards her sentence.

Personal Reflections

Born in China, Cheng Lei migrated to Melbourne with her family at the age of 10. In August, she publicly spoke about her imprisonment in an open letter, expressing her longing for sunlight and the challenges of her confinement. Critics have accused China of using prisoners as political leverage.

Broader Context

The release of Cheng Lei comes amid comparisons with other high-profile detentions, like Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. Their release coincided with the dropping of a US extradition request against Huawei’s CFO Meng Wanzhou, despite China denying any direct connection between the two matters. Another Australian, Yang Hengjun, remains imprisoned in China under national security charges. And then, he was charged in August 2019 with espionage and awaits formal sentencing.