Prominent Australian journalist Cheng Lei has been detained in China and could be held in custody for up to six months.
Lei has been held without charge for more than two weeks, the Australian government revealed overnight, with reports suggesting she is being held in a secret location.
“Australian officials had an initial consular visit with Ms Cheng at a detention facility via video link on (Thursday) and will continue to provide assistance and support to her and her family,” Foreign Minister Marise Payne said in a statement.
No reason has been provided for her detainment.
Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said on Tuesday morning in an interview on Channel Nine’s Today program that the government was informed on August 14 of Lei’s detainment, with embassy officials engaging in a video call with her on August 27.
“Her family has issued a statement, as you would have seen, in which they acknowledged the process and asked people to respect the privacy and refrain from comment,” Mr Birmingham said.
“We will continue to work as best we can in providing her and her family with assistance through what is no doubt a difficult time for them.”
He added details surrounding her detainment had not yet come to light, but his office was working “to ensure that the right assistance is provided to give her and her family every support”.
Lei’s detainment comes months after experts warned there was “something nasty” to come after state owned publication The Global Times declared “vigorous countermeasures” would be taken against “Australian espionage operations”.
China-based Australian journalist Stephen McDonnell, who works for the BBC, tweeted that Cheng was “being held in a secret location without charge”.
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, the China Global Television Network”.
Born in China, she 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. It doesn't teach you to just follow orders, it allows you the freedom to think for yourself, to question ... to judge for yourself,” she said.
After moving to China, Cheng - who speaks with a distinct Australian accent - worked for the Chinese state broadcaster, the country's biggest TV network.
“China is one of those subjects that can be talked up or down any of a number of notches depending on the person's knowledge and experience.”
The ABC reported that Cheng's two young children are in Melbourne. Her family issued a brief statement.
“In China, due process will be observed and we look forward to a satisfactory and timely conclusion to the matter,” they told the ABC.
Cheng's detainment follows the detention of Australian man and 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.
The Chinese diplomat went on to become a pro-democracy campaigner and was made an Australian citizen in 2002.
He was detained in January 2019 and has been held since with limited consular contact.
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