CANBERRA – China has formally arrested a Chinese-born Australian journalist for CGTN, the English-language channel of China Central Television, on suspicion of illegally supplying state secrets overseas, Australia’s foreign minister said Monday.
The arrest of Cheng Lei last Friday starts an official criminal investigation and came six months after she was detained.
“The Australian government has raised its serious concerns about Ms. Cheng’s detention regularly at senior levels, including about her welfare and conditions of detention,” Foreign Minister Marise Payne said.
“We expect basic standards of justice, procedural fairness and humane treatment to be met, in accordance with international norms,” she added.
China's Foreign Ministry confirmed Cheng's arrest and said her legal rights were being “fully guaranteed."
“We hope that Australia will earnestly respect China’s judicial sovereignty and refrain from interfering in China’s law-based handling of cases in any way," ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a daily briefing.
The charges, which could result a penalty of life in prison or even death, are highly unusual for an employee of a media outlet tightly controlled by China's ruling Communist Party. The British media watchdog Ofcom last week stripped CGTN of its U.K. broadcasting license because of a lack of editorial control and is investigating complaints that it ran forced confessions by suspects involved in political cases.
Worsening bilateral relations since Australia called for an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic are suspected to be the cause of Cheng’s arrest.