Cheng Lei (pictured above), a Chinese-born Australian journalist based in Beijing who had previously worked for state media outlet CGTN, has been arrested on charges of supplying state secrets overseas. Cheng had been detained in China for nearly six months before being formally arrested last Friday, as confirmed by a Chinese ministry spokesman.
Australia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne had previously expressed concern over Cheng's detention including her welfare and conditions. During a press conference on Monday, a spokesman said he hoped Australia would respect China's judicial sovereignty and "not interfere with China's handling of this case".
Reuters reported that Cheng had regularly attended business functions and embassy events for the Australian community while working in Beijing. She had previously hosted events such as the Australia China Business Awards and Apec Women Leadership Forum.
The Alliance for Journalists' Freedom (AJF), an Australia-based advocacy group, called for Cheng's immediate release. The AJF's spokesman, Peter Greste, says the Chinese authorities have had ample time to gather evidence, and unless they are willing to show it, they should release Cheng immediately.
"China's record on press freedom is already deeply troubling," said Greste. "In the absence of evidence, Cheng's arrest only adds to the impression that Beijing does not care about the freedom of the press. Her case stands as a clear warning to other journalists to support the government or risk being imprisoned too."
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