It has been two years since Chinese-Australian journalist Cheng Lei was detained in China, accused by authorities of divulging state secrets and locked up after a closed trial.
Cheng, 46, was a television presenter for Chinese state broadcaster CGTN before she was detained.
Recently, it was revealed that the journalist shares a 9-square-meter cell with a single bed used in shifts for sleeping and a single bathroom with four other female prisoners.
On August 13, 2020, the journalist was detained by Chinese authorities in Beijing, and in February 2021 formally arrested on charges of “divulging state secrets abroad”.
On March 31, 2022, Cheng’s case was tried in secret at the Beijing Second Intermediate Court after 19 months of detention. Authorities refused to allow Australian Ambassador Graham Fletcher access to the trial.
“This is deeply troubling, unsatisfactory and very regrettable,” Fletcher told Bloomberg media.
He added, “We cannot have confidence in the validity of a process being conducted in secret. Nevertheless, we will continue to strongly defend Ms. Cheng Lei’s rights and interests.”
According to Bloomberg and The Guardian, “plain-clothed police cordoned off the area around the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court, checked the credentials of journalists and asked them to stay away.”
In turn The Daily Telegraph (DT) published an exclusive documentary titled: “Missing, The Story of Cheng Lei” on August 24, 2022, which tells in detail her life in prison, which immediately drew international attention.
DT revealed what the journalist’s days are like: “… She is often escorted to a conference room where she has monthly 30-minute video calls with blindfolded and handcuffed Australian diplomatic and consular officials.”
For its part, the Daily Mail reported that, the journalist is being held in one of Beijing’s infamous “black jails,” unable to have contact with family and close relatives and in extremely poor conditions. According to Human Rights Watch, these clandestine prisons are known for their physical, psychological and sexual abuse.
Likewise, the journalist’s husband, Australian Nick Coyle, former executive director of the China-Australia Chamber of Commerce, criticized the Chinese ambassador to Australia, Xiao Qian, for claiming that the rights of the imprisoned journalist are “well protected”.
According to Sky News, when the Chinese ambassador to Australia was asked if his country would take steps to free Cheng, Xia replied “that while Covid-19 made it difficult for Australian detainees to contact family members and diplomatic officials, it has now become easily accessible due to the easing of blockades in Beijing.”
However, Cheng’s husband claimed that she has had no contact with her family, including her two young children aged 11 and 13, since she was detained by Chinese officials.
In turn, the Australian government issued a statement expressing concern about Ms. Cheng’s welfare and detention conditions.
“Since Ms. Cheng was detained in August 2020, the Australian government has consistently called for basic standards of fairness, procedural fairness and humane treatment to be met, in accordance with international norms.”
Repression to silence journalists, a common practice in China.
Another case that caught the attention of the international community was that of Chinese journalist Fan Ruoy. On December 11, 2020, the Bloomberg Beijing correspondent was detained by the Chinese regime on suspicion of “engaging in criminal activities that endangered national security.”
However, Bloomberg said that “when Chinese nationals work in foreign media, they can only serve as news assistants. They are not allowed to do independent reporting. Bloomberg has been looking for Fan.”
The European External Action Service demanded that China release Fan Ruoy in 2020 and allow him access to his lawyer.
However, a spokesman for the Chinese regime said the incident was an internal Chinese matter, so other countries and organizations have no right to interfere.
Chinese regime uses AI to monitor journalists
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has invested large amounts of its budget to turn Artificial Intelligence (AI) into an important support of its security system.
Henan province, one of the largest in China, has launched a surveillance system with a view to being used to track journalists and international students as “suspicious persons.”
According to Reuters, “3,000 facial recognition cameras, which link to various national and regional databases, were put into operation in Henan in 2021.”
This technology includes phone scanners, databases of faces, fingerprints, among other things, and is capable of compiling individual files on persons of interest.
Once these cyber tools are combined and fully operational, the Chinese police use them to capture the identity of people walking down the street, through digital video cameras, and thus assess whether or not their behavior conforms to the norms determined by the regime as socially acceptable. They can know everything, who they meet and identify whether or not they are members of the Chinese Communist Party.
The CCP’s propaganda apparatus has always taken care of its international image, although its efforts have not been enough and serious human rights violations in the Asian giant have come to light.
In this context, Reporters Without Borders has published a devastating report called “The Great Leap Backwards for Journalism in China” which reveals the unprecedented campaign of repression that the Chinese regime has carried out against journalism and the right to information around the world in recent years.
As the old saying goes, “you can’t cover the sun with a finger,” and the crimes of the Chinese communist regime can no longer be hidden.