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Australian journalist Cheng Lei faces trial in Beijing court

Australian journalist Cheng Lei faces trial in Beijing court

Cheng Lei, a Chinese-born Australian journalist for CGTN, the English-language channel of China Central Television, attends a public event in Beijing on Aug. 12, 2020. (File photo: AP/Ng Han Guan)

BEIJING: Australian journalist Cheng Lei was due to face trial in a Beijing court on Thursday (Mar 31) on state secrets charges after more than 19 months in detention.

Cheng, who was a television anchor for Chinese state broadcaster CGTN before being detained in August 2020, was formally arrested a year ago on suspicion of illegally supplying state secrets overseas.

Cheng's family members have said they are convinced she is innocent.

Cheng will be tried at the Beijing No 2 People's Intermediate Court on Thursday morning, two sources told Reuters last week. No information on her case could be found on the court's website, which experts said is not uncommon for cases involving state secrets charges.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said in a statement on Saturday that her ministry had asked Chinese officials that Australian officials be allowed to attend Cheng's hearing in line with a consular agreement between the two nations.

"We expect basic standards of justice, procedural fairness and humane treatment to be met, in accordance with international norms," her statement read.

Payne said Australian officials have had regular visits with Cheng, most recently on Mar 21.

Australia has previously said it was concerned about Cheng's welfare and conditions of detention and what it said was a "lack of transparency" over the case.

China's courts have a conviction rate of well over 99 per cent, according to calculations by China Justice Observer, a local web portal.

"Her two children and elderly parents miss her immensely and sincerely hope to reunite with her as soon as possible," Cheng's family said in a statement provided to Reuters.

At a news conference earlier this week, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman did not directly respond to a Reuters query on whether Australian officials would be permitted to attend, but did say that Cheng's rights would be fully guaranteed.

Last May, in a separate case at the same court, Australia's ambassador to China was denied entry to the trial of Australian blogger Yang Hengjun, who was accused of espionage. In a trial last March of Canadian former diplomat Michael Kovrig in the same court, Canadian officials were denied entry.

Cheng was born in China and moved with her parents to Australia as a child. Later she returned to China where she built a television career first with CNBC, starting in 2003, and later, starting from 2012, as a prominent business news anchor for China's English-language CGTN.

The trial comes as diplomatic relations between Australia and China remain tense, after Canberra urged an international probe into the source of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and Beijing responded with trade reprisals.

Source: Reuters/ic
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