Australia’s foreign minister confirmed on Saturday, March 26, that Chinese-born Australian journalist Cheng Lei would be put on trial next week over alleged state secret charges.
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said in a statement, “The Australian Government has been notified by Chinese authorities that Australian citizen, Ms. Cheng Lei, will face trial on March 31, 2022.”
Australia’s ABC News reported that the trial had been scheduled at 9 am local time in the Beijing No.2 People’s Intermediate Court.
As Australia’s ABC provided, Cheng Lei, a mother of two, was a high-profile anchor for the Chinese government’s English-language broadcaster CGTN.
She has been detained since August 2020, when the Chinese authorities accused her of illegally supplying state secrets overseas. No detail about the accusation has been elaborated.
The outlet noted that Australian embassy staff could most likely be kept from the sight of the trial, much like the way they were forbidden to attend the closed trial last May of another Australian national, Yang Hengjun, who faced the same allegations as Cheng’s. Yang previously said he had been subjected to torture and forced to confess.
Australian Foreign Minister Payne, however, said that they had requested permission to observe the trial, citing the Australia-China bilateral consular agreement.
She said, “We expect basic standards of justice, procedural fairness, and humane treatment to be met, in accordance with international norms.”
According to Chinese laws, the national security charges put Cheng at risk of “a sentence of between five and 10 years, but particularly serious cases can be jailed for life,” according to Chinese laws.
Australia has previously voiced concern over a “lack of transparency” in the case, and Cheng’s family has insisted that she is innocent.
Her detention came two months after Australian authorities carried out a foreign interference investigation that involved a group of Chinese academics and journalists in the country.