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Press FreedomChina

China releases Australian journalist jailed for espionage

October 11, 2023

Cheng Lei has returned to Melbourne after spending three years in detention in Beijing. Her imprisonment had been a source of friction between Australia and China.

Cheng Lei
Cheng Lei was working for the English-language channel of China Central Television when she was detained in 2020Image: Ng Han Guan/AP Photo/picture alliance

Australian journalist Cheng Lei, who was detained for three years in China on national security charges, has returned home, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced Wednesday.

"[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 told a press conference.

Albanese said Cheng had been reunited with her two children in Melbourne, adding that her release came after the "completion of legal processes in China." 

Cheng, 48, was working as an anchor for Chinese state television when she was detained in August 2020. She was formally charged with sharing state secrets and was convicted in a closed-door trial in March 2022.

Born in Hunan province, Cheng emigrated to Australia as a child and became a citizen before returning to China in 2012 to join the state broadcaster. 

Albanese to visit China this year

The Australian government had long been lobbying for Cheng's release, and her detention had been a source of friction between Canberra and Beijing.

Australia had repeatedly raised concerns about her detention, urging China to follow basic standards of justice and humane treatment.

While in prison, Cheng spoke about the dismal conditions in a note dictated to Australian officials from behind bars in August.

"I miss the sun," read the message, described as a "love letter" to Australia. "I haven't seen a tree in three years. I relive every bushwalk, river, lake, beach with swims and picnics and psychedelic sunsets," she wrote.

Albanese said he planned to visit China — Australia's biggest trading partner — later this year.

Canberra is also seeking the release of Yang Hengjun, another Chinese-Australian journalist held in China since 2019.

Hong Kong's media under pressure

nm/sms (Reuters, AFP, AP)