Beijing police arrest an Australian journalist
Cheng Lei, a presenter on Chinese state TV CGTN, is in custody without formal charges. In January 2019, Chinese authorities arrested another Australian reporter. China imprisons the most journalists at a global level. Analysts: Cheng's arrest is a weapon of blackmail to obtain concessions from Canberra. The precedent of the two Canadian citizens imprisoned by Beijing.
Beijing (AsiaNews) - An Australian television journalist was arrested in China. This was revealed yesterday by Marise Payne, Canberra's foreign minister. Cheng Lei, a presenter of the Chinese state television CGTN, was stopped on August 14 by the police. On 27 August she had consular contact with the diplomatic staff of her country. The Australian government said it did not know what the allegations were against her. So far the Chinese authorities have not commented on the incident.
Cheng is now "under surveillance in a designated residence". Under Chinese law, a suspect can be held in custody for six months without a formal charge and without the possibility of meeting a lawyer.
Cheng’s friends and colleagues believe she was arrested because of her independence of mind. It is not the first time that Beijing has targeted an Australian journalist of Chinese origin: in January 2019 it was the turn of Yang Hengjun, accused of espionage.
The New York based Committee to Protect Journalists comments that globally China has the highest record for arresting journalists. One of the most striking cases is that of Gui Minhai, a Hong Kong publisher with Swedish citizenship, sentenced in February by the Ningbo (Zhejiang) court to 10 years in prison on charges of "having provided intelligence abroad". In 2015, Gui was arrested in Thailand along with four of his associates by Chinese agents. He was targeted by the Beijing authorities for publishing and selling texts that recount personal aspects of the lives of some members of the Chinese Communist Party.
Analysts argue that the arrest of Cheng Lei - like that of Yang Hengjun - is a retaliation by the Chinese government against Australia. Relations between the two countries have deteriorated in the last period. Canberra accuses Beijing of spying, unfair business practices, violating international norms in the South China Sea, cracking down on dissent in Hong Kong and lying about the coronavirus pandemic.
The Australian authorities fear that the Chinese regime will use the arrests of Australian citizens in China as a form of blackmail to extort concessions in the various bilateral disputes between the two countries. For several observers, it is the same system that Beijing is using to obtain the release of Meng Wanzhou, the financial director of Huawei, arrested in Canada in December 2018 at the request of the US.
Immediately after the arrest of Meng, daughter of Ren Zhengfei, founder of the Chinese telecommunications giant, the Chinese police arrested and imprisoned Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, two Canadian citizens.