Australian journalist Cheng Lei was tried in a heavily guarded court in Beijing for espionage after being detained for more than 19 months.
Cheng, who was a top business news presenter on China’s state-run CGTN television channel when she was arrested in August 2020, was formally arrested a year ago on suspicion of “illegally providing business secrets”. ‘state abroad’.
Canberra has repeatedly expressed concerns about his detention and called for “basic standards of justice” to be upheld.
Little is known about the exact nature of Cheng’s alleged offenses.
Speaking to reporters outside the courtroom on Thursday, Australia’s Ambassador to China Graham Fletcher said he and other Australian officials had been denied access to the hearing. Chinese courts often bar foreigners from participating in trials deemed politically sensitive.
“This is deeply concerning, unsatisfactory and regrettable. We can have no confidence in the validity of the process which is being conducted in secret,” he said, adding that Australia would continue to “strongly defend the rights and interests of Ms. Cheng Lei”.
China’s state security laws are notoriously vague, and the ruling Communist Party is frequently accused of using them to silence political enemies or other critics.
His trial comes amid protracted tensions between China and Australia over trade, Chinese foreign policy measures, accusations of Chinese interference in Australian politics and Australia’s call for a full investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic that started in China.
Australian diplomats last visited her in custody on March 21 and Fletcher said she appeared to be “well”.
Cheng was unable to speak with her two sons in Australia, although she was able to choose her own lawyers and Australian diplomats were “satisfied” with her well-being, Fletcher said.
China does not recognize dual nationality and defendants born in China often do not receive the same treatment as other foreign nationals, especially when accused of espionage.
The Committee to Protect Journalists ranked China as the top jailer of journalists in 2021 for the third consecutive year, with 50 behind bars.
In a joint statement on Wednesday, the Australian Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, the International Federation of Journalists, the Australian National Press Club and its US counterpart called for Cheng’s release, saying she was being held for “dubious accusations which have not yet been substantiated by evidence”. any evidence.
Cheng has been in custody since August 2020, and observers have raised concerns about the secret court process. Payne says Cheng was granted regular access to Australian consular officials, who last saw her on March 21.
Chinese authorities have not released details of the allegations against Cheng, but the country has a near 100% conviction rate, meaning it was ‘almost set in stone’ that a guilty verdict will be handed down, said Elena Collinson, a senior research fellow at the Institute of Australia-China Relations at the University of Technology Sydney, at CNN.
Diplomatic relations between Australia and China remain strained after Canberra called for an international investigation into the source of COVID-19, accused Beijing of interfering in its domestic politics and blocked some Chinese investments. Beijing has responded with trade embargoes on key Australian exports.
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Posted: Thursday March 31st 2022, 1:42 PM IST