Cheng Lei, a Chinese Australian journalist, has returned to Australia after being detained in China for three years on espionage charges.
Cheng’s return: Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese confirmed Cheng’s return on Wednesday and stated that Australia did not make any concessions to secure her release. Her release comes ahead of Albanese’s planned visit to Beijing this year, which will make him the first Australian prime minister to visit the Chinese capital in seven years.
“She was met at the airport by the Foreign Minister Penny Wong. Her return brings an end to a very difficult few years for her family. The government has been seeking this for a long period of time and her return will be warmly welcomed not just by her family and friends but by all Australians,” Albanese said, adding that her case “was concluded through the legal processes in China.”
On X, the FreeChengLei account shared a photo of Cheng with Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong and Australia’s ambassador to China Graham Fletcher. The tweet included a quote from Cheng that read: “Tight hugs, teary screams, holding my kids in the spring sunshine. Trees shimmy from the breeze. I can see the entirety of the sky now! Thank you Aussies.”
About Cheng’s arrest: Cheng, who migrated with her family to Melbourne from China, worked for China’s state broadcaster CGTN when she was detained in August 2020 for allegedly sharing state secrets.
She faced a closed-door trial in Beijing in March 2022 after being detained for over 19 months. The trial ended in less than a day, with the court deferring its verdict. She was convicted and sentenced to two years and 11 months. On Wednesday, Cheng was deported after serving her sentence.
In August, Cheng shared her conditions in jail in an open letter to her partner, Nick Coyle, during the three-year anniversary of her detention. She described her lonely living conditions in jail, missing nature and her children.
Improving relations: Australia previously accused China of political interference and intimidation, leading to a diplomatic dispute. However, their relations have been gradually easing with Australia’s new administration. Coyle previously said that Cheng’s release “would greatly improve the atmospherics with regard to the bilateral relationship at a time where both countries are making efforts to improve relations.”
Albanese’s government has also been advocating for the release of another Chinese Australian, democracy blogger Yang Hengjun, who has been detained in China since 2019 and is awaiting a verdict on an espionage charge. It is hoped that Cheng’s release will positively impact Yang’s situation.