Cheng Lei: Australian TV host’s partner detained in China fears for her health


Cheng, a former commercial anchor for China’s state broadcaster CGTN and a mother of two, is accused of illegally supplying state secrets overseas, a charge that carries a sentence of up to five years to the life imprisonment.

She has been in custody since August 2020 and her initial detention came amid rapidly deteriorating ties between Canberra and Beijing.

His partner Nick Coyle, the outgoing head of the China-Australia Chamber of Commerce, told CNN affiliate Sky News Australia that regular consular visits had been suspended “indefinitely”, apparently due to Covid-19 restrictions at Beijing.

“I find that unacceptable,” Coyle said in an interview published Thursday. “These monthly consular visits were literally what kept her going for 20 months. She couldn’t call anyone, she had maybe three visits from her lawyer to prepare for the trial. She didn’t had only one phone call with his family or children, nothing.

According to Coyle, described by Sky News Australia as Cheng’s longtime boyfriend, consular officials last saw Cheng on April 30 and his family do not know when they will be back.

Coyle also said there were serious concerns for Cheng’s health, which “has been an issue throughout the 21 months of his detention.”

“Fortunately, we are dealing with the strongest person I know, mentally, emotionally, but there have been difficult health issues along the way,” he said.

According to Coyle, Cheng’s health issues are exacerbated by an inadequate prison diet. “There were apologies given because of Covid and food restrictions. Now there have been no food restrictions in Beijing, I talk to people there literally every day,” he said . “So the idea that the detention center cannot get enough food is just not acceptable.”

Chinese authorities have not released details of the allegations against Cheng, and observers have raised concerns about the secret judicial process.

In March, Australia’s ambassador to China, Graham Fletcher, was denied entry at the start of Cheng’s trial in Beijing, a move he called “deeply concerning”.

“We can have no confidence in the validity of a process that is being conducted in secret,” he said, adding that Australia had no information about the charges or allegations against Cheng. “That’s part of the reason we’re so worried because we have no basis to understand why she was detained.”

CGTN anchor Cheng Lei talks onstage with Barbara Martin Coppola, Chief Digital Officer at IKEA and Kristin Lemkau, CMO at JPMorgan Chase, at the Altice Arena in Lisbon, Portugal, November 5, 2019.

National security cases are usually tried behind closed doors in China. But the lack of transparency in Cheng’s case amid deteriorating China-Australia relations has raised concerns among analysts that the charges could be politically motivated.

Coyle told Sky News Australia that Cheng was someone “who was not involved in politics”.

“The idea that she was focusing on political issues in Australia and China – she wasn’t. She’s a straightforward business journalist,” he said, adding that the nature of her working in the business world meant she wasn’t pursuing anything. it would be considered politically sensitive.

“It doesn’t make any sense to me. It never did,” he said.

In her spare time, Cheng was very active in the Australian community in Beijing. When asked if it put a ‘target’ on her back, Coyle said: ‘Who knows, I mean she’s given a huge amount of her time to the Aussie community.

Cheng’s two children are being cared for by their grandmother in Melbourne, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reported last year.

Coyle said the kids are “handling things as well as they can,” but “that’s even more of a reason why she needs to be back. It’s not about me, it’s about about her and her children.”

“I really feel for his mom and dad. They’ve been through hell too. It’s awful,” he said.


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