The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, today expressed concern over the detention of Australian journalist Cheng Lei, who works as an anchor for the Chinese state broadcaster CGTN.
Australia’s foreign minister, Marise Payne, said her government was made aware of the detention in mid-August. Neither the Australian nor Chiense governments have provided further information on the case. It is unclear whether Lei’s arrest is tied to her journalistic work.
“The Chinese authorities must state their reasons for holding Cheng Lei. Any relation between her detention and her work as a journalist would be grounds for grave concern given China’s intolerance towards free speech and media freedom”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said.
Tensions between China and Australia have risen after Australia called for an international investigation into the source of the coronavirus pandemic, leading Beijing to block Australian beef imports, place dumping tariffs on Australian barley, and launch an anti-dumping investigation into Australian wine. In early 2019 an Australian writer of Chinese heritage, Yang Hengjun, was held in China on espionage accusations.
Australia’s former ambassador to China, Geoff Raby, said that Cheng Lei “held a degree of scepticism towards some Chinese media, but she was equally strong in arguing China’s case if foreign reporting mischaracterized China or was not based on facts”. On her social media accounts, Lei, who anchored a business programme, appear eager to promote better business relationships with China, describing herself as a “passionate orator of the China story”.