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Australian journalist says China arrested her for breaking embargo for just minutes

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CANBERRA, Australia — Australian journalist Cheng Lei says she spent more than three years in detention in China for violating an embargo during a broadcast on a state television network.

Cheng’s first television interview since his release was broadcast in Australia on Tuesday, almost a week after he returned to his mother and two children, aged 11 and 14, in the city of Melbourne.

This 48-year-old woman of Chinese origin was an English-speaking presenter for the public China Global Television Network in Beijing when she was arrested in August 2020.

She said her offense was breaking a government-imposed embargo minutes after a briefing by officials.

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His treatment in detention was designed to “make it clear that in China this is a big sin”, Cheng told Sky News Australia. “That you have injured the homeland and that the authority of the state has been eroded because of you.”

“What seems harmless to us here – I am sure it is not limited to embargoes, but to many other things – does not happen in China, especially (because) I understand that the field of state security is expanding,” she said. said.

Cheng did not elaborate on the embargo violation.

His account differs from the crime described last week by China’s Ministry of State Security.

The ministry said Cheng was approached by a foreign organization in May 2020 and provided them with state secrets she obtained through her work, in violation of a confidentiality clause signed with her employer. A police statement did not name the organization or specify what the secrets were.

A Beijing court found her guilty of illegally disclosing state secrets abroad and she was sentenced to two years and 11 months, the statement said. She was deported after sentencing due to the time she had already spent in custody.

Observers suspect the real reason Cheng was released was persistent lobbying by the Australian government and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s planned trip to China this year, on a date yet to be set.

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Cheng said a visit to the court restroom the morning before her sentencing was the first time in more than three years she had sat on the toilet or seen her reflection in a mirror.

On her commercial flight from Beijing to Melbourne, it was the first time she had slept in the dark in three years, as the lights were always on at night in the detention centers.

Cheng emigrated to Australia with his parents when he was 10 years old. She said she struggled to answer when asked how she was doing since her return.

“Sometimes I feel like an invalid, like a newborn and very fragile,” Cheng said. “And other times I feel like I can fly and I want to embrace everything and I appreciate everything so intensely and I savor it.”

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