China Detains Australian Journalist Cheng Lei, Reason Still Not Revealed

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China's envoy to Australia accused Canberra of betrayal over calls for an international probe into the origins of the coronavirus
China's envoy to Australia accused Canberra of betrayal over calls for an international probe into the origins of the coronavirus Pool / Lukas Coch

The Australian government has confirmed that Australian citizen Cheng Lei, a known business anchor in China, has been detained by Chinese authorities. The government still has no idea why the journalist was held up. 

In a statement Monday, Foreign Minister Maris Payne said Chinese investigators detained the journalist in mid-August. Cheng works on an English-based business news for CGTN. 

"The Australian Government has been informed that an Australian citizen, Ms. Cheng Lei, has been detained in China," Payne said. 

Diplomats were allowed to speak with Cheng on Aug. 27 via a video link to a detention center in the country. Payne promised the government will continue to provide “assistance and support to her and her family."

“I feel for her family very much at this point in time, and it’s why we will do what we can to assist her, as we would and have any Australian in these sorts of circumstances,” Trade Minister Simon Birmingham told ABC radio. Cheng has two children who are in Australia. 

The Committee to Protect Journalists is asking Chinese authorities to reveal the reason behind her detainment. 

“China – the world’s number one jailer of journalists – must make clear whether her detention has anything to do with her media work,” Steven Butler, CPJ Asia program coordinator, said in a statement, Reuters noted. 

Cheng’s profile page on CGTN’s website has already been removed, as well as videos featuring her previous works. ABC News says the journalist is being held under “residential surveillance at a designated location” -- a form of detention wherein investigators can question and imprison a suspect up to six months before a formal arrest. 

This news comes as tension between China and Australia continues to worsen. For months, both nations have been embattled in trade and health disputes. Just on Monday, Chinese telecom giant Huawei announced that it is pulling its sponsorship of the NRL’s Canberra Raiders following the 2018 decision of the Australian parliamentary to ban it from installing 5G network in the country. 

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