Last week, Australian journalist Cheng Lei marked 1,000 days
of detention in China.
Cheng, a 48-year-old business reporter, was taken by authorities in August 2020 and was subsequently charged with “illegally supplying state securities overseas,” according to a report
by the BBC. She was working for the government-run CGTN at the time.
For the first six months since her arrest, Cheng was kept in solitary confinement and subjected to distressing interrogations without access to a lawyer.
Beijing finally gave Cheng her day in court
in March 2022, but kept the proceedings behind tightly closed doors. The courtroom was also heavily guarded by police, both uniformed and plain-clothed, who paid particular attention to the foreign press, checking their identification and asking them to move keep their distance.
Even Australia’s ambassador to China, Graham Fletcher, had not been allowed into the courtroom, a move that he called “deeply concerning.”
“We have no confidence in the validity of a process that is conducted in secret,” Fletcher said at the time.
In the same situation as Cheng is Taiwanese Li Yanhe, editor-in-chief of Gusa Press, who was arrested
by Chinese authorities in late April while he was visiting family in Shanghai.
According to Zhu Fenglian, spokeswoman of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, Li is being detained and investigated under “suspicion of engaging in activities endangering national security,” according to a report
by Taipei Times.
Human rights groups, along with friends, family and colleagues, have pressed Beijing to let both Cheng
go, pointing out that keeping them detained without a formal sentence is in violation of their human rights.
Cheng and Li are just two recent examples of China’s unrelenting, unforgiving, and near-complete systemic repression of the media that stretches even beyond its borders. Similarly languishing in prison is citizen journalist Zhang Zhan
while state media journalist Dong Yuyu
was detained for over a year following his arrest in February 2022 and faces trial for espionage.
According to Reporters Without Borders, China is the second-worst country
in the world for press freedom, bested only by the dictatorship of North Korea. The Northeast Asian giant is the world’s most prolific jailer of journalists. In 2022 China was “the biggest global jailer of journalists,” according to Associated Press, with more than 100 in prison, based on data from Reporters Without Borders.