Aussie journo detained in China ‘kept diary’
The journalist and broadcaster detained in China shared a number of in-depth personal updates that included criticism of the Chinese government's response to the coronavirus pandemic on Facebook earlier this year.
On Monday, Foreign Minister Marise Payne confirmed Ms Cheng Lei has been detained in the country since 14 August.
"Australian officials had an initial consular visit with Ms Cheng at a detention facility via video link on 27 August and will continue to provide assistance and support to her and her family," she said.
"Further comment will not be provided owing to the Government's privacy obligations."
Ms Cheng has worked as an anchor and reporter for CGTN since December 2012 covering some of the nation's biggest stories.
She has not been charged but is being held under "residential surveillance" at a specific location in which China is able to question someone for up to six months without charge, the ABC reports.
Her family told the national broadcaster they are doing everything possible to support her.
"In China, due process will be observed and we look forward to a satisfactory and timely conclusion to the matter.
"We ask that you respect that process and understand there will be no further comment at this time."
Chinese officials have not yet commented on the situation.
Cheng went to University in Queensland and Monash Secondary College, before working at CNBC and moving to CGTN.
While she has not posted on Facebook since late March, updates from the early days of the coronavirus pandemic describe the situation on the ground in China with a mix of personal anecdotes and news commentary.
On February 16, she wrote that both she and a friend who also worked in television had been "lobbying our bosses to let us go to Wuhan to report, and not succeeding" in reference to the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Instead, they were helping doctors by sending medical supplies and raising money for them to have PPE.
"Similarly, many alumni groups are handling their own rescue missions. It is a damning vote of distrust for intermediaries," she wrote.
She also said her children would be schooled online but "school grades seem a distant concern at the moment, if this episode teaches children anything, it should be the premium on health and honesty."
She later said her two children were in Melbourne.
Ms Cheng often shared a mix of trending topics in China as well as personal diary style updates. One post noted the most shared article on her social media feeds was one called "the whistle-giver" which profiled Ai Fen, the director of the emergency department at Wuhan's Central Hosptial who proved a source of information for a second whistleblowing doctor, Li Wenliang, who later died from the virus and was lauded as a hero for speaking out.
"The article lived for a few hours, then the purge started, but people kept moving it to different accounts and reposting under other guises (even with the text entirely reversed), in defiance. Many have saved screen shots of the story or pdf files, some say "it's imprinted in my brain." Cheng wrote.
She said she had dinner with another "friend from an international network" who had been questioned about his colleagues and whether they were "China-friendly" in their reporting.
"While food was hot and spicy, the conversation was cold and hard at times - he was questioned about what the correspondents did, whether they were China-friendly, what stories the channel chased, the angles they took, the questioning (by young and goodlooking representatives from the Beijing government) happened three times until he got fed up," she wrote.
The business anchor also took aim at the setting of "business resumption" targets post-lockdown which she said were ignoring the real issues such as getting masks for staff and ensuring their safe return to work.
Her coronavirus diaries also contained descriptions about what it was like on the ground in Beijing including going out for dinner and walking in the streets,
At one point in March she wrote about posts comparing residential passes for buildings and said there are "more questions about patient zero, after Wuhan's Institute of Virology denied reports saying it is Huang Yanling, a graduate student."
"There's still plenty of suspicion about how the virus came about," she said.
The origins of the coronavirus are currently the subject of a WHO-led investigation which China agreed to after Australia led calls for a probe to take place.
However the move marked the start of a rapid cooling of Australian and Chinese international relations which have seen China place tariffs on Australian barley and livestock, and Australia stepping up military investment in the region.
Originally published as Aussie journo detained in China 'kept diary'