China: RSF calls for release of three foreign journalists accused of espionage

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the immediate release of Cheng Lei, Gui Minhai and Yang Hengjun, three foreign journalists arrested in recent years and still detained by the Chinese regime on the accusation of espionage.

Exactly one year ago, on 14th of August 2020, Cheng Lei, a high-profile Australian business news anchor working for state media group China Global Television (CGTN), was arrested under suspicion of “illegally supplying state secrets overseas". Yang Hengjun, an Australian political commentator, was arrested the year before under a similar accusation and has since been arbitrarily detained. Gui Minhai, a Swedish national who founded a publishing house in Hong Kong, was sentenced in February 2020 to 10 years in prison for a similar crime, after being kidnapped in Thailand in 2015. 

By keeping three foreign journalists in detention under the accusation of espionage, President Xi Jinping sends a very clear message that China is not afraid to go after any  independent voices, regardless of their passport or place of residence”, denounces RSF East Asia Bureau head, Cédric Alviani, who calls on the international community “to build up pressure to compel China to respect international law and to secure the immediate release of Cheng Lei, Yang Hengjun, Gui Minhai, and all other detained journalists and press freedom defenders.”

Cheng Lei, 46, Chinese-born Australian CGTN business news anchor, was arrested and placed for six months under "residential surveillance at a designated location" (RSDL), China’s “black jails” in which detainees are deprived of their rights and at risk of being tortured. In February 2021 she was moved to a prison in Beijing, and to this date no information about her trial date has been released. 

Gui Minhai, 57, Chinese-born Swedish founder of a Hong Kong publishing house known for its investigations on Chinese leaders, was abducted in Thailand in 2015 and reappeared on Chinese state TV for a confession months later. In February 2020, Gui was sentenced to ten years in prison under the charge of “illegally providing intelligence to foreign countries”, despite serious health concerns.

Yang Hengjun, 56, a Chinese-born Australian political commentator and writer who published several articles critical of the regime in the prominent international affairs magazine The Diplomat, was arrested in January 2019 in the southeastern Chinese city of Guangzhou, charged with “espionage” and tortured while in detention. Yang's trial was held in May 2021, but no verdict has yet been published. 

China, ranked 177th out of 180 in the 2021 RSF World Press Freedom Index, is the world's largest captor of journalists with at least 125 detained, often in life-threatening conditions.

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Updated on 13.08.2021