Journalists, colleagues, and press freedom advocates have expressed concern for the well-being of Chinese-Australian journalist Cheng Lei who was arrested on Friday on suspicion of ‘supplying state secrets’ by China, reports on Tuesday said.
Eric Olander, who worked with the detained journalist in Singapore in 2003, said it was “heart-breaking to see what she’s now having to endure,” reported the South China Morning Post.
Tech podcaster Elliott Zaagman, who once shared an apartment building with Cheng and appeared on her show, said her arrest “hit very close to home” among the expatriate community in Beijing.
“It’s distressing to think of the conditions she is under, and what sort of emotional and physical trauma she may be enduring.
“My thoughts are with her family, particularly her two young children,” Zaagman added.
The Alliance for Journalists’ Freedom, an Australia-based advocacy group, has called for Cheng’s immediate release.
“China’s record on press freedom is already deeply troubling,” said spokesman Peter Greste.
“In the absence of evidence, Cheng’s arrest only adds to the impression that Beijing does not care about the freedom of the press.
“Her case stands as a clear warning to other journalists to support the government or risk being imprisoned, too,” the Alliance added.
John Power, in his opinion piece in the South China Morning Post, wrote that Cheng’s former colleagues, family members, and press freedom advocates have expressed concern about the well-being of the Australian journalist.
Amid deteriorating Australia-China relations, Cheng, an anchor with Chinese state-run CGTN was formally arrested by the Chinese government on suspicion of “illegally supplying state secrets overseas.”
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said in a statement that Canberra had raised “serious concerns” about Cheng’s detention during her previous six months in detention prior to formal arrest.
“We expect basic standards of justice, procedural fairness and humane treatment to be met, in accordance with international norms,” she said.
Cheng’s detention in August placed a strain on Canberra’s already fraught relations with Beijing, which have sunk to their lowest ebb in decades amid disputes spanning trade, territorial issues, alleged espionage, and COVID-19.
Before her detention, Cheng had written a number of posts on Facebook criticising Chinese President Xi Jinping and Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan.