A prominent Australian journalist living in China and working for a state-run media channel has been detained in Beijing.
The Australian Government said it was told Cheng Lei, the anchor for the BizAsia show on CGTN, the state-run English language channel of China Central Television, was arrested on August 14.
It is unclear how long the mother of two, who has worked in China for nearly two decades, has been in custody. But it is understood friends became concerned for her in recent weeks after she failed to reply to messages.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said last night that Australian officials had spoken to Ms Cheng via video link from the detention centre where she is being held on Thursday.
She is being held under residential surveillance, the ABC reported. Investigators can hold her for six months without access to legal aid.
In a statement, Ms Cheng’s family said they were hopeful she would be released.
“We are in close consultation with DFAT and doing everything we can as a family to support Cheng Lei,” the statement read.
“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.”
In January, Ms Cheng posted an article on her LinkedIn account about the coronavirus which criticised the response of local officials.
“The official stats update that rips you up inside (knowing beneath each climb in number are hundreds more families in turmoil, suffering, anguish), medical articles to better understand how to be protected, analysis about how we got here, who to praise, who to blame,” she posted.
“The ineptitude of local officials was on show again today, when a health official in Huanggang, the city with the second largest outbreak couldn’t answer any questions from the central audit team — how many beds in the hospital? Head scratching. How many hospitalised?”
In June, she again tweeted about the anxiety in China over coronavirus: “Outbreak in Beijing under control, says China CDC’s chief epidemiologist Wu Zunyou today at the govt presser, he says the infection peak was June 13.
“We hope he’s right. Because already the anxiety is almost suffocating. Businesses were just starting to recover.”
Ms Cheng, who has featured on the ABC’s Q &A and has led coverage of the National People’s Congress — China’s highest profile political event, last tweeted on August 11. That tweet — accompanied by a video — related to the opening of a store in Beijing called Shake Shack.
“The staff are psyched! Loving the Beijing touches in food and decor,” it said.
Senator Payne said officials would continue to provide assistance.
“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.
In July, Australia warned its citizens about the risk of detention in China, after tensions between the countries escalated. China dismissed the warning as disinformation.
Ms Cheng was born in China but later became an Australian citizen and grew up in Melbourne before studying commerce at the University of Queensland.
It is understood her children are in Melbourne.
She spent five years working with Cadbury Schweppes and ExxonMobil in Melbourne, before returning to China and starting a career in journalism with CCTV in Beijing in 2002.
She was also the China correspondent for US TV network CNBC for nine years.