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Ahead of Albanese visit to China, journalist detained for espionage in Beijing returns home after 3 years

Although the Australian government has been lobbying for the release of Cheng, a CCTV scribe, and another journalist who has been jailed on similar espionage charges, the release of Yang Hengjun is still stuck in limbo.

Edited By: Ajeet Kumar @Ajeet1994 Published on: October 11, 2023 13:33 IST
Australian-Chinese journalist, Cheng Lei, who worked for the international department of China's sta
Image Source : AP Australian-Chinese journalist, Cheng Lei, who worked for the international department of China's state broadcaster CCTV.

In a major development, a Chinese-Australian journalist who was convicted on murky espionage charges and detained in China for three years has returned to Australia, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on Wednesday. Cheng Lei, 48, worked for the international department of China's state broadcaster CCTV. She has reunited with her two children in Melbourne, he added.

Her return comes ahead of Albanese's planned visit to Beijing this year on a date yet to be announced. Albanese's government has been lobbying for the release of Cheng and Yang Hengjun, another Chinese-Australian held in China since 2019.

Major political development ahead of Albanese China visit

Bilateral relations have improved since Albanese's centre-left Labour Party was elected after nine years of conservative rule. Beijing has lifted several official and unofficial trade barriers on Australian exports. Albanese suggested that Cheng had recently been sentenced after she was convicted in a closed-court trial last year on national security charges.

“Her return brings an end to a very difficult few years for Ms. Cheng and her family. 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 added.

Albanese said he spoke to Cheng in Melbourne, where her children have been living with her mother, and that they discussed a letter she had written to the Australian public in August to mark the third anniversary of her detention. The Chinese-born journalist spoke in her letter about her love for her adopted country.

Release of another journalist stuck in limbo

In the letter, she also described her living conditions in detention in China, saying she was allowed to stand in sunlight for just 10 hours a year. “She is a very strong and resilient person ... and when I spoke with her she was delighted to be back in Melbourne,” Albanese said. Albanese did not say whether Yang was also likely to be released.

“We continue to advocate for Dr Yang's interests, rights and well-being with the Chinese authorities at all levels,” Albanese said. Yang, a 58-year-old writer and democracy blogger, told his family in August he fears he will die in a Beijing detention centre after being diagnosed with a kidney cyst, prompting supporters to demand his release for medical treatment. Yang has been detained in China since January 2019, when he arrived in Guangzhou from New York with his wife and teenage stepdaughter. Yang received a closed-door trial on an espionage charge in Beijing in May 2021 and is still awaiting a verdict. 

(With inputs from agency)

Also Read: China engineered Nijjar's killing in Canada to sow discord between India and West, claims US-based blogger

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