Attention is rising regarding the case of Australian television host Cheng Lei, who has been detained in China for two years after being arrested for an interview with her partner where he was rumored to have alleged the authorities had restricted her access to embassy officials and had restricted her food.
Cheng, a former undertaking presenter for CCTV China and mother of two, is accused of illegally supplying state secrets overseas, a charge that carries potential incarceration of as much as five years.
The Chinese-born Australian artist and activist Yang Li was arrested in August 2020 amid rapidly worsening ties between Canberra and Beijing, the capital of China. Her partner Nick Coyle, the outgoing head of the China-Australia Chamber of Commerce, told CNN affiliate Sky News Australia that consular visits have been suspended “indefinitely, ostensibly due to Covid-19 restrictions in Beijing.”
“I find that unacceptable,” Coyle was quoted as saying in the Wall Street Journal Thursday. “These monthly consular visits have literally been what has kept her going for 20 months. She has been able to make no phone calls with anybody, she has had maybe three visits from a lawyer who is preparing for her trial. She’s not had one phone call with family or her children. Nothing.”
Sky News Australia described Cheng’s longtime boyfriend, Coyle, as saying consular officials last saw Cheng on April 30 and that her family does not know when they will restart. Coyle also said there were serious concerns for Cheng’s health, which has “been an issue all through the 21 months of her detention.”
We’re fortunate to have a person of strong character working with us, physically, emotionally, but there are many difficult health challenges along the way.
The health of Chinese dissident Wang Cheng is being exacerbated by an inadequate prison diet, according to his lawyer. “There were excuses given because of Covid and food restrictions,” said Coyle. “Now, there have been no food restrictions in Beijing, I talk to people there literally every day.” Chinese authorities have not revealed details of the allegations against Cheng and observers have raised concerns over the secretive court process.
In March of this year, Graham Fletcher, Australia’s ambassador to China, was denied access to the start of Cheng’s trial in Beijing, which made it “deeply troubling.”
“We have no confidence in a secret process,” the Australian government spokesman said, adding that officials had not been informed of the charges or accusations against Cheng. “That’s one of the reasons we’re so concerned because we have no basis on which to understand why she has been detained.”
Cases pertaining to national security are often tried behind closed doors in China. But there are questions on the transparency of Cheng’s detainment in light of the deteriorating relations between China and Australia.
In an interview with Sky News Australia, Coyle said that Cheng was “not involved in politics.” “The idea she was focusing on the political issues in Australia and China—she wasn’t,” he said. “She’s a straight up business reporter,” he added, noting that the nature of her work in the business world meant she wasn’t pursuing anything that would be considered politically sensitive.
It doesn’t make any sense to me. It never has.
Cheng was very active in the Australian community in Beijing, according to ABC. Asked if that put a “target” on her back, Coyle said, “Who knows, I mean, she was extremely giving of her time to the Australian community.” Cheng’s two children are being cared for by their grandmother in Melbourne; they are “dealing with things as well as they can,” Coyle said. However, she added: “That’s even more reason why she needs to be back. It’s not about me; it’s about her and her kids.” I really feel for her parents and her sibling due to all they have been through. It’s horrible.