Renewed calls for the release of a Chinese-Australian journalist

Journalist groups have renewed their calls for the release of Chinese-Australian business journalist Cheng Lei on the eve of her trial in Beijing for espionage.

A former top anchor for the state-owned China Global Television Network, Cheng has been detained for 19 months on suspicion of passing state secrets overseas.

It is unclear whether Australian diplomats who have requested to attend his trial will be allowed to do so.

In a joint statement, the Australian Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, the International Federation of Journalists, the Australian National Press Club and his US counterpart said Cheng was being held on “dubious charges which have not yet been not supported by any evidence”.

“We urged the Chinese government to show compassion in allowing her to return to Australia and we condemn her arbitrary detention and the secret trial she endured,” the statement said.

Australia has expressed concern for Cheng’s well-being and conditions of detention. County diplomats last visited him on March 21.

Cheng’s trial on Thursday comes amid protracted tensions between China and Australia over trade, Chinese foreign policy measures, accusations of Chinese interference in Australian politics and Australia’s call for an investigation. insight into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic that began in China.

This spilled over into the media sphere, and the last two Australian journalists working for Australian media in China left the country in 2020 after being targeted by the authorities.

Cheng’s photo and resume still appear on the website of CGTN, which declined to comment on his case.

Born in China, Cheng graduated from the University of Queensland and worked as an accountant and financial analyst in Australia for Cadbury Schweppes and ExxonMobil from 1995 to 2000.

She moved to China in 2001 and joined state broadcaster CCTV the following year. She then served as a China correspondent for CNBC Asia for nine years before returning to CCTV in 2012. She anchored a business program on CGTN, the international arm of the state broadcaster.