In another huge shot across the bow in the ongoing tit-for-tat media and journalism ban between China and the West, a high-profile Australian television anchor has been detained by authorities in Beijing.
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne confirmed Monday that Cheng Lei, who it turns out is a veteran news anchor for the Chinese government’s English news channel, CGTN, is being prevented from returning to her home country. She’s been detained and placed in secured isolation for an indeterminate amount of time.
“The Australian Government has been informed that an Australian citizen, Ms Cheng Lei, has been detained in China,” the Australian government statement said. “Formal notification was received on 14th of August from Chinese authorities of her detention,” it continued, though news of her detention is only now being reported via Australia’s ABC.
“Australian officials had an initial consular visit with Ms Cheng at a detention facility via video link on 27th of August and will continue to provide assistance and support to her and her family,” it continued.
It was friends and colleagues who first noticed she was “missing” as she didn’t return messages over a period of weeks. She also hadn’t appeared on her most recent show, CGTN’s Global Business, after long being one of its premier hosts.
Strongly suggesting that Lei could actually be under suspicion of spying or passing sensitive information to the Australian government, or other serious breach of her work for state-run CGTN, her employment profile page detailing eight years of accomplishments for CGTN has been taken down and all videos of her previous stories have been scrubbed.
Australian media says she hasn’t been charged, yet has been detained under a draconian Chinese law allowing security services to detain and question a suspect for up to six months with no access to a lawyer or outside communications.
It comes as tensions between Canberra and Beijing escalate primarily over the recently enacted Hong Kong national security law, which resulted in Australia suspending its extradition treaty with Hong Kong, after which China vowed retaliation.
Sad news. Cheng lei well known and liked in Australian circles in Beijing. Her arrest has shocked Australians in the city https://t.co/4cwCb4iqqY
— Glenda Korporaal (@GlendaKorporaal) August 31, 2020
Chinese authorities have indicated she’s currently held in “residential surveillance at a designated location”, ABC notes.
Another Australian citizen and news correspondent, Yang Hengjun, had previously been detained January 2019, and has reportedly yet to be provided access to his lawyers.