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China to try Chinese-Australian journalist spy case: NPR

Australia’s Ambassador to China Graham Fletcher, left, is turned away by court and police officials as he tries to participate in the trial of Chinese-Australian journalist Cheng Lei at the Second Intermediate People’s Court in Beijing on Thursday in Beijing.

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Australia’s Ambassador to China Graham Fletcher, left, is turned away by court and police officials as he tries to participate in the trial of Chinese-Australian journalist Cheng Lei at the Second Intermediate People’s Court in Beijing on Thursday in Beijing.

Kevin Frayer / Getty Images

BEIJING – Chinese-Australian journalist Cheng Lei was tried in Beijing on Thursday on charges of espionage, with diplomats denied permission to attend proceedings.

Australian Ambassador Graham Fletcher told reporters outside the court that he had been told he could not be present because the trial involved state secrets.

“This is disturbing, inadequate and very regrettable,” says Fletcher. “We cannot trust the validity of the process conducted in secrecy.”

Australia will continue to advocate for Cheng’s rights and interests in accordance with the consular agreement between China and Australia, Fletcher said.

Tests in China are usually completed in a day. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the ruling would be announced at a later date.

Cheng’s family said they had been informed of the trial and thanked the support of Australian diplomats.

“Her two children and elderly parents miss her dearly and sincerely hope to be reunited with her as soon as possible,” they said in a statement delivered by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs.

A former host of the state-owned China Global Television Network, Cheng was detained for 19 months on suspicion of relaying state secrets abroad.

China has not provided any specific details about the crimes against which Cheng is accused.

“We have no information about the charges or allegations against Ms. Cheng,” Fletcher said. “That’s part of the reason we’re so concerned.”

China’s state security regulations are notoriously vague, and the ruling Communist Party is regularly accused of using them to silence political enemies or other critics.

Her trial comes amid lingering tensions between China and Australia over trade, China’s foreign policy moves, accusations of Chinese meddling in Australian politics and Australia’s call for a meeting Thorough investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic that started in China.

Australian diplomats last visited Cheng on March 21 and Fletcher said she appeared “fine”.

Cheng was unable to speak to her two sons in Australia, although she was able to choose her own attorney and Australian diplomats were “satisfied” about her welfare, Fletcher said.

China does not recognize dual citizenship, and Chinese-born defendants are often not treated like other foreign nationals, especially when faced with espionage charges.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has listed China as the country that imprisons top journalists in 2021 for the third year in a row, with 50 behind bars.

In a joint statement on Wednesday, the Australian Alliance for Media, Entertainment & Arts, the International Federation of Journalists, the National Press Club of Australia and its US counterpart called for Cheng’s release, saying that she is being held on “suspicious charges that have not been substantiated with any evidence.”

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