A Chinese paramilitary police officer stands guard in front of the Australian Embassy in Beijing, China, 02 September 2020. EFE/EPA/FILE/ROMAN PILIPEY

Australian journalist says she was imprisoned in China for breaking news embargo

Sydney, Australia, Oct 17 (EFE).- Australian journalist Cheng Lei, who spent three years in detention in China for national security reasons, revealed on Tuesday that she was jailed for breaking a news embargo.

An embargo on news stories is an agreement by which journalists undertake not to publish certain information until a specified time. Breaking this is considered a serious crime in China.

Cheng, 48, tried behind closed doors in March 2022, was a business anchor for Chinese state broadcaster CGTN when she was arrested in August 2020 for allegedly sharing state secrets with another country.

In her first interview after her release last week and returning to Australia, China-born Cheng said she was arrested for releasing information about a government meeting minutes before the embargo expired.

“In China that is a big thing, that you have hurt the mother-land and that state’s authority has been eroded because of you,” Cheng said in an interview with Australian broadcaster Sky News.

After her arrest, Cheng spent six months at a facility, in a room under 24-hour surveillance and with only 15 minutes of fresh air.

“They say that they gave me 15 minutes of fresh air, but all it meant was – there’s a window up the top that the guard would open for 15 minutes, but the curtains were still drawn while the windows are open,” she said.

“Certainly didn’t feel there was fresh air and you never saw anything except the blue curtains and the mottled carpet and the beige padded walls,” the journalist recalled.

To cope with this solitary confinement, Cheng “made up a radio station called CoffinFM – because that’s what it felt like. We were buried alive and I’d be sending, or pretending to be different people and sending each other love song dedications.”

She also translated poems in her head and had imaginary conversations with her partner and children.

After being transferred to a maximum security prison where she shared a cell with other prisoners, the situation became more bearable, but it brought other discomforts such as not being able to use a western sit-down toilet or see in a mirror, she said.

On her release, she was “led down the corridor to go to a normal toilet – a sit down toilet. And that was the first time I had sat on the toilet in over three years – I relished the experience,” said Cheng, who was sentenced to two years and 11 months although it was not made public.

The journalist arrived in Melbourne on Wednesday last week, and met with her family and two children.

“Sometimes I feel like an invalid, like a newborn and very fragile. Other times I feel like I could fly and I want to embrace everything and I enjoy everything so intensely and savor it,” she said.

Australia is still trying to secure the release of the Chinese-Australian writer Yang Hengjun, who was arrested in 2019 in China and tried behind closed doors for espionage in May 2021. His term is yet to be made public. EFE