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Detained Australian journalist Cheng Lei wrote diary about the COVID-19 pandemic in China

An Australian journalist who kept a diary of the coronavirus pandemic has been arrested in China.

Cheng Lei, an English-language presenter with the state-owned China Global Television Network, wrote withering Facebook posts about the Communist Party.

The Beijing-based journalist, who studied in Brisbane and Melbourne, mocked the earlier lockdown in Wuhan in March.

‘The hottest word in Chinese social media is “gratitude”, brought up by Wang Zhonglin the Wuhan party secretary at a press conference two days ago, in the context of asking Wuhan residents to be be “grateful (to the party, to Dear Leader)”,’ she wrote.

An Australian journalist who kept a diary of the coronavirus pandemic has been arrested in China

An Australian journalist who kept a diary of the coronavirus pandemic has been arrested in China

‘It immediately blew up the internet. Even in China, where the pool of material for satire never runs low, this is too rich.’

Her detention in China is further straining relations between Australia and its biggest trading partner.

Ms Cheng did a commerce degree at the University of Queensland and has two children in Melbourne.

Friends and family have been unable to contact her for weeks.

The Australian government has confirmed she has been in custody since August 14.

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham is being careful in his comments on her arrest.

‘We had consular access via video link on 27 August and continue to provide appropriate consular assistance,’ he said on Tuesday.

‘We equally are working with her family, who have issued a statement acknowledging they respect the process, and are urging people to respect their privacy and limit comment at this time.’

Cheng Lei, an English-language presenter with the China Global Television Network in Beijing, wrote withering Facebook posts about the Communist Party

Cheng Lei, an English-language presenter with the China Global Television Network in Beijing, wrote withering Facebook posts about the Communist Party

No reason has been provided for her detention.

Under Chinese law, she could be held for months in a secret location without charge.

Confirmation of her detention came on the same day China announced a second investigation into Australian wine exports.

Senator Birmingham said various issues were weighing on the ‘vast and complex’ relationship between Australia and China.

‘There are obviously some issues of difficulty that arise from time to time. They have always arisen,’ he said.

‘There have long been different and difficult consular cases that exist in the Chinese relationship. There have always been other points of tension, be they on human rights or other matters.

‘But we continue to be committed to working as closely as we can and particularly in the areas of mutual interest and advantage for our two nations.’

China is furious with Australia for demanding an independent inquiry into the origins of coronavirus.

Beijing has launched trade strikes on Australian beef, barley and wine and has placed federal government ministers in the diplomatic deep freeze.

In an online video for the Australia Global Alumni posted two years ago, Cheng described herself as an anchor for the global business show on CGTN.

Born in China, Cheng studied commerce at the University of Queensland before working for Cadbury Schweppes and ExxonMobil in Australia.

‘The beauty of an Australian education is not about what is taught but more about what it doesn’t teach,’ she said.

‘It doesn’t teach you to just follow orders, it allows you the freedom to think for yourself, to question … to judge for yourself.’

After moving to China, Cheng – who speaks with a distinct Australian accent – worked for the Chinese state broadcaster, the country’s biggest TV network. 

Her family have issued a brief statement.

‘In China, due process will be observed and we look forward to a satisfactory and timely conclusion to the matter,’ the family said.

Cheng’s detainment follows the detention of Australian academic Yang Hengjun.

Senator Payne has previously called for the immediate release of Dr Yang, who could face the death penalty if found guilty of spying charges.

He was detained in January 2019 and has been held since with limited consular contact. 

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