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Calls for China to free Aussie journalist

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The nation’s leading journalists have banded together to demand for the release of fellow Australian Journalist Cheng Lei from detention by the Chinese government.

Friday marks one year since Ms Cheng was detained and then later formally arrested on charges of “suspicion of illegally supplying state secrets overseas” by Chinese authorities.

The Australian government has expressed concerns for Ms Cheng’s safety and wellbeing, with Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne stating “we are particularly concerned that one year into her detention, there remains a lack of transparency about the reasons for Ms Cheng’s detention”.

On Friday the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA) – the union for Australia’s journalists – released an open letter calling for Ms Cheng’s immediate release from Chinese detention and return to Australia.

“We are confident she has done nothing wrong and hold grave concerns for her health, safety and care during her ongoing detention,” the letter, signed by more than 50 journalists, says.

“Her arrest, her detention and the accusations against her have never been explained. No evidence has been presented. After 12 months, there has been nothing to suggest she has done anything wrong.”

The letter’s signatories described Ms Cheng as a “highly regarded journalist with an excellent reputation.”

While Australian consular officials are conducting monthly visits with Ms Cheng by video link, she has not been able to speak with her two children – aged 10 and 12 and living with their grandmother in Melbourne – since her arrest in August 2020.

Prior to her detention, Ms Cheung worked as a business news anchor on Chinese English-language channel CGTN.

Chinese authorities have remained tight-lipped about the details and justifications for Ms Cheung’s detention.

Following the MEAA’s letter, the Committee to Protect Journalists stated the claims against Ms Cheng “lack all credibility”, and demanded China “stop using journalists and others as pawns in conflicts with other nations”.

Moving forward, the MEAA joint letter has called for “compassion and reason from the Chinese government in dealing with (Ms Cheungs) case”, and for her “immediate release and return home to Australia to be reunited with her children.”

Veteran ABC Journalist, President of the National Press Club and signatory to the letter, Laura Tingle, issued a separate statement saying China had tried to make Cheng “disappear”.

“But the world has not forgotten about her or the several dozen other reporters unjustly jailed in China,” it said.

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