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Australian imprisoned in China: ‘I haven’t seen a tree in three years’

Australian imprisoned in China: ‘I haven’t seen a tree in three years’

Australian journalist Cheng Li has been imprisoned in China for three years.

Photo: Ng Han Guan/AP/dpa

Australian journalist Cheng Li was arrested in China in August 2020. She is said to have exposed state secrets abroad. In a message now addressed to the public for the first time.

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  • Australian journalist Cheng Li has been detained in China since August 2020. She is accused of spreading state secrets abroad.
  • In a message, Cheng addresses the public for the first time since her imprisonment.
  • In it, she describes her longing for her country, her family, and nature. You hardly see any sunlight and you haven’t seen a tree in three years.
  • Cheng went on trial in March 2022. No verdict.
  • The Chinese government could use the detention of Cheng and another journalist as leverage in negotiations with the Australian government.

In August 2020, Australian journalist Cheng Lei was arrested in China, initially without reason. She was later accused of spreading state secrets abroad.

Now, Lee has addressed the public for the first time since her arrest. “I miss the sun,” the lieutenant colonel dictated to the diplomats in a message addressed to the people of Australia. “I can’t believe I avoided the sun while living in Australia.”

“I miss the sun,” Cheng says. “In my cell, sunlight shines through the window, but I can only stand ten hours a year in it.” But it’s not just a lack of sunlight. “I haven’t seen a tree in three years,” she adds.

A love letter to 25 million people

The journalist describes her lines as “a love letter to 25 million people.” This refers to the population of Australia. She cares about her time on the island. She writes: “I remember going camping with my family for the first time in 1987.”

In prison, she would whisper the names of every place she visited or passed through in Australia.

In addition to her homeland, she longs for nature: “I relive every walk through the bush, every river, every swim on the beach and every stroll into the psychedelic sunset, the sky lit by the stars and the quiet and secretive symphony of the bushes.”

Career in Chinese State Television

She also misses the salt water, the sand between her toes, and her dark sense of humor. She seems to have retained a sense of humour. “When I get back to Melbourne, it will probably rain for two weeks.” With all the nostalgia, Cheng saved the most important thing for last: “Most of all, I miss my children,” she writes at the end of the letter.

Cheng was born in China. When she was ten years old, her family immigrated to Australia. From 2003 to 2011 she was CNBC’s China correspondent. From 2012 until her arrest, she was a senior news anchor for the English-language Chinese state broadcaster CGTN.

After his arrest in August 2020, Cheng spent six months in solitary confinement. Although she had already been questioned at the time, no lawyer was provided for her.

The Australian Prime Minister is under pressure

What the journalist is accused of in detail, not even her family knows. She was tried on camera in March last year. Australian Ambassador Graham Fletcher’s request to attend the trial was refused.

Although more than a year has passed since her trial, Cheng has not been found guilty. Observers suspect that the Chinese government will deliberately wait for the verdict in order to influence the Australian government. In addition to Cheng, another Australian journalist, Yang Hengjun, has been imprisoned in China.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has been invited to meet China’s ruler Xi Jinping. He is pressured at home not to accept the invitation until Cheng and Heng Jun are freed.