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China: Australian journalist appears on suspicion of espionage

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A closed-door trial has begun in Beijing on espionage charges against Australian journalist Cheng Lei. The Australian ambassador was not allowed to attend the hearing. The trial of Cheng Lei, an Australian journalist accused of spying for Beijing, began behind closed doors on Thursday, with diplomats barred from attending the hearing under tight security. Graham Fletcher, Australia’s ambassador to China, has been barred from entering the court. “We have been denied access to a hearing,” Fletcher told reporters outside the Beijing courthouse. “It’s very disturbing, unsatisfactory and very sad. We have to question the legitimacy of this secretly conducted process.” Cheng, a former anchor of China’s state-run international network CGTN, has been in custody for nearly 19 months for allegedly sending confidential country documents abroad.

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China has not provided further details on Cheng’s alleged involvement in the crime. Cheng’s family said China had been informed of the trial and thanked Australian diplomats for their support. “Her two children and elderly parents miss her dearly and look forward to reuniting with her,” said a family statement sent to journalist Rana Ayub in Mumbai by the Foreign Ministry in Canberra. Cheng could face life in prison. He was stopped at the airport if found guilty of violating China’s national security laws. There are also concerns about Cheng’s recovery and his detention in Australia. AA / CK (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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