China’s national security law threatens the democratic world
Australian journalist is charged with illegally supplying state secrets overseas and faces life in prison if convicted
A Beijing court is holding a trial, albeit behind closed doors, for former TV presenter Cheng Lei.
Her family and friends are defending the Chinese-Australian, who worked for Chinese state media CGTN before her detention in August 2020.
Human Rights Watch’s Sophie Richardson says Cheng has been accused of violating China’s state secrets laws, which are “notoriously problematic,” in part because the contents of those laws are themselves state secrets. ‘State.
“It’s incredibly difficult to know what someone has even been charged with in that while there are fair trial rights, at least on paper in China, almost all of those are suspended in cases like these,” she said.
“And so that really leaves a defendant almost without the ability to successfully defend themselves in court.”
Concerns for Cheng’s well-being
Richardson says that although Cheng has had contact with consular officials, she is very concerned about his well-being in a Chinese prison.
“They are synonymous with psychological torment, physical abuse and especially in a case like this, where you cannot demand or reasonably expect to be able to regularly see a lawyer of your choice or have contact with your family members” , she says. .
In a Human Rights Watch statement regarding Cheng Lei’s court appearance, HRW says the Chinese government’s arbitrary detention of Australian journalist Cheng Lei was absolutely chilling.
“For 19 months she was held in harsh conditions on vague ‘national security’ and ‘espionage’ charges, often used to criminalize free speech. With unpredictable access to consular officials or lawyers of her choice, she risks being mistreated.
According to Chinese Justice Observer, in 2019, the conviction rate was 99.965%. Even though the stats are not in Lei’s favor, Richardson is still hoping for a positive result.
“I hope the Australian authorities will be able to make the Chinese authorities sufficiently understand the price they will impose if she receives a severe sentence,” she says.
What does the Australian government want?
“We just don’t know, but we do know that people across China are being prosecuted simply for holding opinions that may be critical of the government or for embarrassing officials in certain ways,” she said.
How can the Australian government help?
Sophie Richardson said Australian authorities should push more widely for fair trial rights and accountability.
“Whether it’s deepening concerns about trade or other types of exchanges, whether it’s limiting certain types of diplomatic contacts,” she says.
“It’s about pushing broadly, in a place like the United Nations Human Rights Council, investigations into issues ranging from COVID-19 to crimes against humanity targeting Wiegers,”
Where does this leave the future of journalism in China?
After Cheng’s arrest, many Australian journalists fled China, leaving Australian media almost without journalists in the country for the first time in 50 years.
Richardson says the extent to which Chinese authorities are cutting people off from the rest of the world is “frightening”.
“Today more than ever, we need to understand what is happening in the country. Let’s hope they recognize this is detrimental to their own interests and to people across China and change course,” she said.
Cheng was a “trustworthy person” to “express opinions” in China according to people who worked with her.
The family released a statement for Reuterssaying that her children and elderly parents “miss her very much and sincerely hope to find her as soon as possible”
Savannah Pocock contributed to this report.