Cheng Lei: The family urges China to release the Australian TV presenter who has been detained for 1,000 days

Hong Kong (CNN) Friends and family of Australian TV presenter Ching Li have renewed calls for her release from detention in China, 1,000 days after she was held on spying charges – a move that has cast a black mark on the already strained relationship between the two countries.

Cheng, a former business anchor for Chinese state broadcaster CGTN and a mother of two, is charged with illegally providing state secrets abroad, a charge that carries a prison sentence of between five years and life.

Australian authorities have previously expressed concern about her detention amid suggestions from analysts that strained relations between Canberra and Beijing may have given impetus to the murky case against her.

Relations between the two countries have improved in recent months, with increased trade and the establishment of a new Australian government. But Cheng’s partner, Nick Quayle, told CNN on Tuesday that Cheng’s prolonged detention is a “crucial issue” that is blocking further reconciliation.

“The continued delay, and the current situation, is causing serious damage not only to Lee and her two children, but I think it is also causing a lot of harm in terms of the efforts that both China and Australia are making to mend bilateral relations,” Coyle said. .

He added that people in Australia and around the world viewed her detention with “a great deal of negative emotion”, and that it “would be in everyone’s interest for it to be resolved as quickly as possible”.

In a separate letter published in The Australian newspaper on Monday, Coyle said Cheng was on her way to work on the morning of August 13, 2020, when she was “picked up by China’s Ministry of State Security”.

“Now 1,000 days later, we still don’t know why she was taken into custody, why she was charged with vague national security violations or when she might be with us again,” he wrote.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong was also released a permit “Despite being separated from her family for a long time, she has shown great resilience and courage. All Australians want to see her reunite with her children,” she wrote on Twitter Monday.

Wong added that the department shares the concerns of Cheng’s friends and family about “continued delays in her case,” and that she will continue to advocate for Cheng “at every opportunity with the Chinese government.”

Secret court proceedings

The Chinese authorities have not disclosed details of the allegations against Cheng. Which Cowell told CNN on Tuesday “makes no sense to me.”

“She’s a very passionate Australian person, but she’s also very proud of her Chinese heritage,” he said. He added that as a journalist, Cheng was reporting on “the positive aspects of China’s growth story” and sharing Chinese business with the world. He said she was “making a very positive contribution in this context – so I never really understood why she was being held”.

Observers have also criticized the Chinese court’s secretive and closed procedures.

In March last year, Australia’s ambassador to China was denied entry for the start of Cheng’s trial in Beijing, a move he described as “extremely worrying”. The court has not yet issued a ruling, delaying the announcement several times – and leaving Cheng stranded in custody, and her loved ones without an explanation of her fate.

Australia’s Ambassador to China Graham Fletcher speaks to the media outside a court in Beijing, where he was denied entry to Qing Li’s trial, on March 31, 2022.

Cases involving national security are usually tried behind closed doors in China. But the lack of transparency in Cheng’s case against the backdrop of deteriorating relations between China and Australia has analysts concerned that the charges may be politically motivated.

Shortly after Cheng’s arrest, two Australian journalists working in China fled the country after authorities attempted to interrogate them on national security grounds, leaving the Australian media without any journalists in China for the first time in nearly 50 years.

While there were still some Australian journalists working in China, they all work for non-Australian media companies.

During most of Qing’s detention, there were widespread concerns about her safety. Last June, Coyle told CNN affiliate Sky News Australia that Cheng faced “difficult health challenges along the way”, exacerbated by an inadequate diet in prison.

In his letter, published on Monday, Cowell described Cheng spending six months cut off from the outside world, confined to those consular visits, which began each month with Cheng “blindfolded and handcuffed.” From then on, she was placed with other cellmates, and allowed into an outside courtyard two hours a day, he wrote.

When she spoke to CNN on Tuesday, Cowell said Cheng was allowed to receive and send messages once a month — but other than that, she had no face-to-face contact or phone calls with loved ones including her children, ages 11 and 14, who They are being cared for in Australia by their grandmother. Koel is not their father.

“The hardest issue for her to deal with was the long period she had been away from her children,” Coyle said. “Physically she is going well, and mentally she is very strong, very strong, and very resilient.”

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