Journalist detained in China for three years returns to Australia

Cheng Lei’s return comes in advance of prime minister Anthony Albanese’s trip to Beijing this year

A Chinese-Australian journalist who was convicted on espionage charges and detained in China for three years has returned to Australia, prime minister Anthony Albanese has said.

Cheng Lei (48) worked for the international department of China’s state broadcaster, CCTV. She has been reunited with her two children in Melbourne.

Her return comes in advance of Mr Albanese’s planned visit to Beijing this year.

His government has been lobbying for the release of Ms Cheng and another Chinese-Australian, Yang Hengjun, held since 2019.


Bilateral relations have improved since Mr Albanese’s centre-left Labour Party was elected after nine years of conservative rule. Beijing has lifted several official and unofficial trade barriers on Australian exports.

The prime minister suggested that Ms Cheng had recently been sentenced after she was convicted in a closed-court trial last year on national security charges.

“Her return brings an end to a very difficult few years for Ms Cheng and her family,” he said.

“The government has been seeking this for a long period of time and her return will be warmly welcomed not just by her family and friends but by all Australians.”

The premier said he had spoken to Ms Cheng in Melbourne, where her children have been living with her mother, and that they had discussed a letter she had written to the Australian public in August to mark the third anniversary of her detention, in which she spoke about her love for her adopted country.

In the letter, she also described her living conditions in detention in China, saying she was allowed to stand in sunlight for just 10 hours a year.

“She is a very strong and resilient person and when I spoke with her, she was delighted to be back in Melbourne,” Mr Albanese said.

He did not say whether Dr Yang was also likely to be released.

“We continue to advocate for Dr Yang’s interests, rights and wellbeing with the Chinese authorities at all levels,” Mr Albanese said.

Dr Yang, a 58-year-old writer and democracy blogger, told his family in August he feared he would die in a Beijing detention centre after being diagnosed with a kidney cyst, prompting supporters to demand his release for medical treatment.

He has been detained in China since January 2019, when he arrived in Guangzhou from New York with his wife and teenage stepdaughter.

Dr Yang received a closed-door trial on an espionage charge in Beijing in May 2021 and is still awaiting a verdict. – PA