After 1,000 days in China detention, family renews call for release of Australian TV anchor Cheng Lei

Lei, a Mandarin-speaking presenter for state broadcaster CGTN, was detained in August 2020 and later charged with spying.Cheng Lei has been detained in China on espionage charges for 1,000 days. Her friends and family are calling for her release.

After 1,000 days in China detention, family renews call for release of Australian TV anchor Cheng Lei

Hong Kong CNN

On Monday, friends and family of Australian TV anchor Cheng Lei renewed their calls for her freedom from detention in China. This comes 1,000 days after authorities arrested her on espionage-related charges.

Cheng, a former anchorwoman for China's CGTN state broadcaster and mother of two children, is accused by the Chinese government of illegally supplying secrets of state overseas. This charge carries a potential sentence of up to life imprisonment.

Analysts have suggested that the opaque case against her may have been a result of strained relations between Canberra and Beijing.

In a letter that appeared in The Australian on Monday, Nick Coyle, Cheng's partner, said she was on her way to the office on August 13, 2020 when "China's Ministry of State Security" took her.

He wrote: 'Now, 1,000 days after her arrest, we don't even know what happened to her, why she's been charged with vague breaches of national security, or when she'll be back with us.'

Penny Wong, Australia's Foreign Affairs Minister, also issued a statement Monday. She wrote on Twitter that despite being separated from her children for so long she had shown great courage and resilience. All Australians are eager to see her reunited her with her children.

Wong said that the ministry shares the concerns of Cheng’s family and friends about the 'ongoing delays in her case', and will continue to advocate for Cheng "at every opportunity" with the Chinese Government.

Observers have expressed concern over the secretive and closed-door nature of the court proceedings.

Australia's ambassador in China was refused entry to Cheng's trial at the beginning of March last year. He called this a 'deeply worrying' decision. The court has yet to announce a verdict. This delay is the third time it's happened. Cheng and her family are left in custody without knowing her fate.

In China, cases involving national security are usually tried behind closed-doors. Analysts were concerned that Cheng's lack of transparency, coupled with the deteriorating relationship between China and Australia, could be a political motive.

After Cheng's arrest, two Australian journalists who were working in China left the country when authorities tried to question them for national security reasons. This was the first time that Australia's media had no journalists in China in over 50 years.

There are still some Australian journalists in China but they all work for non-Australian media.

Cheng's health is also a subject of widespread concern. In June last year, Coyle, the former head of the China Australia Chamber of Commerce told CNN affiliate Sky News Australia, that Cheng faced 'difficult' health challenges, which were exacerbated due to an inadequate prison food diet. He said that at the time her monthly consular visit had been suspended ostensibly because of Covid-19 restrictions.

Coyle wrote in a letter that was published on Monday about Cheng's six-month isolation from the outside world. He said she had only consular visits every month, and Cheng would be 'led into, blindfolded, and handcuffed'. He wrote that after six months she was moved to a cell with other prisoners and allowed access to a courtyard for two hours each day.

He said that her sense of humor was 'firmly intact', and outlined the ways in which she is making the most of the time spent in detention, including meditation, reading and reflection. He added that the separation from their children, aged 11 and 14, was the most difficult part. Coyle was not their father.

ABC, the Australian public broadcaster at the time she was detained, reported that Cheng's children were being taken care of by their grandmother. According to a spokesperson for Australia's Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, Cheng hasn't been able speak to her children since being detained.

Coyle wrote that she wonders about their friends and what they do every day. "For a mom to not see her kids for 1000 days would be excruciating." It is painful to not be there.