Cheng Lei: Australian journalist detained in China for more than three years released | International

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Australian journalist Cheng Lei, detained for more than three years in China, has been released from the prison in which she had been imprisoned and has been able to return home to Melbourne, where she has been reunited with her daughters. “Her return brings to an end a very difficult few years for Mrs. Cheng and her family,” Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said this Wednesday when announcing the news in an appearance.

Albanese has assured that he has been able to speak with her on the phone. Cheng, for now, has requested privacy. “This is a result that the Australian Government has been seeking for a long time and his return will be very welcomed, not only by his family and friends, but by all Australians,” added the president. His return also means the disappearance of one of the main obstacles to repairing the tense diplomatic relations between both countries. Albanese confirmed in September that he plans to visit Beijing and meet Chinese President Xi Jinping before the end of 2023: he would be the first Australian chief executive to do so in seven years.

Cheng, 48, was born in the People's Republic, although she grew up in Australia, a country of which she was a citizen (China does not allow dual nationality). She was working as a television journalist in the English edition of the Chinese state channel CGTN when she was detained in August 2020 on suspicion of illegally providing state secrets abroad. Various analysts considered her case as an example of “hostage diplomacy”, related to the worsening of bilateral relations between Beijing and Canberra. The journalist was tried behind closed doors in March 2022 and the verdict was not made public.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry, however, confirmed this Wednesday that Cheng Lei was sentenced to two years and 11 months in prison for the crime of illegally providing state secrets to foreign countries. “Once his sentence has been served [...] "She was deported by the Beijing Municipal State Security Bureau," said Foreign Affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin, in an appearance in which he stressed that the journalist's rights "have been fully guaranteed."

Cheng's husband, Nick Coyle, has confirmed the journalist's arrival in Australia. “It's great,” she said, although she declined to comment further, according to the Australian newspaper. Financial Reviewin an article co-written by Michael Smith, another Australian journalist who was a correspondent in Beijing and had to immediately leave the country in 2020 when questioned by the Chinese police for his possible connection to the Cheng Lei case. Currently, no Australian media has a journalist in China.

Hopes for his release had increased with the announcement that Albanese would visit Beijing before the end of the year. The prime minister has assured the press that the Australian Government has not negotiated anything with Beijing to facilitate the return, and that the release coincides with the conclusion of the judicial procedure. “His case has been resolved following the legal process in China,” he said.

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Relations between Australia and China went into a tailspin, among other reasons, due to Canberra's veto of the Chinese technology giant Huawei and the Australian Government's call to investigate the origins of the covid pandemic, precisely one of the points against which the Journalist Cheng Lei also raised his voice publicly.

Beijing responded in 2020 with a harsh campaign of economic retaliation against Australia, imposing trade barriers on the import of all types of products from this country, from coal to wine. Many of these barriers have been gradually removed in recent months as the thaw took shape. In China, the Australian writer Yang Hengjun, detained in 2019 and also tried for espionage, is still in prison.

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