By Anikaa Singh
On Thursday, Australian journalist Cheng Lei went on trial in a Beijing Court on spying charges after being detained for more than 19 months.
Lei, who was a top business news presenter for Chinese state broadcaster CGTN and was detained in August 2020, was officially arrested in 2021 on suspicion of “illegally supplying state secrets overseas“.
The hearing at No. 2 People’s Intermediate Court in Beijing started at about 9:30 am (7:00 am IST) on Thursday morning and is expected to go on for a few hours.
Not a lot of details are known about her charges against her, but the journalist could face a sentence of life imprisonment if she is found guilty.
The security outside the court was strict with police in uniforms and plain clothes officers on duty. Reuters reported that police taped off areas to the north entrance of the court and journalists’ identification was also checked. They were also asked to move away.
Although Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne had requested to allow Australian Diplomats to attend Cheng Lei’s hearing, Australian Ambassador Graham Fletcher told journalists that he was not permitted to enter the Court.
Fletcher described the incident as “deeply concerning” and also added, “We have no confidence in the validity of a process that is conducted in secret.”
Australian officials have been having regular visits with Cheng, and saw her last on March 21. The country previously expressed their concern over Cheng’s treatment, and says it “lacks transparency” over the case.
Australia’s Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance, the International Federation of Journalists, the Australian National Press Club and its United States counterpart released a joint statement wherein they said “Cheng was being held under uncertain charges that have yet to be proved with any evidence”.
“We have requested the Chinese government to show compassion by allowing her to return to Australia and we condemn her capricious detention and the secretive trial process she has gone through,” the statement also said.
Cheng was arrested during a sharp decline in Australian and Chinese relations, and as Beijing raided the homes of Chinese state media journalists as a part of an investigation into alleged foreign interference.