Australian Journalist Cheng Lei Released After 3-Year Detention in China

Published: 16 October 2023

Cheng Lei

Australian Journalist’s Cheng Lei. (Photo: Vaughn Ridley, Web Summit via Sportsfile, Flickr, License)

By Erika Di Benedetto

The Australian Chinese-born journalist, Cheng Lei, has returned to Australia after China released her from nearly three years of detention on spying charges. She was reunited with her two children and her husband.

The International Federation of Journalists said on Thursday that Cheng Lei's ordeal began in August 2020 when she was detained without any formal charges while working as a news anchor for the state media group CGTN (China Global Television), a Chinese state broadcaster.

During her time in detention, she was cut off from her family and subjected to surveillance even during her calls with Australian diplomats.

In February 2021, Cheng Lei was formally arrested on charges of “supplying state secrets overseas.” Individuals charged with this type of crime in China can face potential life sentences.

The detention was marked by extreme secrecy, with a closed-door trial conducted on March 31.

In August, Cheng Lei published an open letter describing the harsh conditions she endured during her imprisonment and her deep longing to be reunited with her two young children and her husband.

“The release of Cheng Lei is good news, but the Chinese regime still detains 113 press freedom defenders, including two foreign media workers. We call on democracies to increase pressure on the regime for the immediate release of these individuals,” said RSF Asia-Pacific Bureau Director, Cédric Alviani.

According to Reporters Without Borders, since Chinese President Xi Jinping took power in 2012, journalism has faced serious threats.

“While Cheng Lei’s release and return to Australia are worthy of celebration, the arbitrary, prolonged, and opaque nature of her detention is condemnable. The IFJ welcomes the journalist’s return to her loved ones and calls on Chinese authorities to release all journalists still in custody,” stated IFJ.

China's position in the 2023 RSF World Press Freedom Index is near the bottom, ranking 179th out of 180 countries and being labeled as the “world's largest captor of journalists and press freedom defenders.”