09/09/2020, 12.48
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Beijing accuses Australian journalist Cheng Lei of security offences

The CGTN anchorwoman has been under house arrest since 14 August. Chinese authorities have not said what criminal activities she is supposed to have committed. A few hours before charges against her were announced, two Australian journalists fled China. Chinese media have reported that Australian officials raided the homes of four Chinese correspondents on 26 June. Journalists are victims of the rift between the two countries.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – China’s Foreign Ministry announced yesterday evening that Cheng Lei, the Chinese-Australian journalist arrested on 14 August, is accused of “carrying out criminal activities endangering China’s national security”.

Cheng was born in China and worked for the state-controlled China Global Television Network. Over the past few weeks, she has been held under “residential surveillance” without any formal charges.

The announcement by Chinese authorities came a few hours after two Australian journalists , Bill Birtles from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and Michael Smith of the Australian Financial Review (AFR), fled China.

Until then, they had found refuge in their country’s Embassy. On 3 September, Chinese police broke into their homes as part of the Cheng Lei investigation.

At that time, Foreign Ministry Zhao Lijian spokesman did not clarify what criminal activities the journalist is supposed to have carried out, simply noting that an investigation was underway.

In January 2019, Beijing also detained Yang Hengjun, a Chinese-Australian writer, on charges of espionage.

Making matters worse for relations between the two countries, as part of a “media war”, Chinese state media reported that Australian officials had conducted searches of four Chinese journalists from three Chinese media organisations in Australia

The searches appear to be connected to an investigation by Australian authorities into relations between China and New South Wales lawmaker Shaoquett Moselmane. The investigation also involves John Zhang, a former aide to the Australian politician.

Relations between China and Australia have deteriorated in the recent past. Canberra accuses Beijing of espionage, unfair business practices, violating international rules in the South China Sea and cracking down on dissent in Hong Kong.

The Australian government has also called for an international investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, a request that has infuriated Chinese leaders.

Australian journalists are not the only foreign journalists to end up in China's crosshairs. Recently, a Los Angeles Times reporter was arrested and then deported from Inner Mongolia where she was covering protests that are shaking China's northern region.

In March, Beijing expelled a dozen correspondents from three major US newspapers in response to the Trump administration's decision to treat some Chinese media operating in the United States as foreign diplomatic missions.

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