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Journalist jailed in China describes how she survives with only getting sunlight 10 hours a year

Amelia Jones

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Journalist jailed in China describes how she survives with only getting sunlight 10 hours a year

Featured Image Credit: YouTube/Al Jazeera English / NOEL CELIS/AFP via Getty Images

An Australian journalist, who's been held in a Chinese jail for three years, has spoken publicly for the first time about her love of her home country and missing the sun.

Cheng Lei's nostalgic letter to the Australian public was released on the third anniversary of her detention.

It was deemed what she described as 'a love letter to 25 million people'.

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The 48-year-old lamented with heartbreaking references to her life in Australia, writing: "I miss the sun. In my cell, the sunlight shines through the window, but I can stand in it for only 10 hours a year.

"I can't believe I used to avoid the sun when I was living back in Australia… It'll probably rain the first two weeks I'm back in Melbourne."

Lei's family immigrated to from Hunan Province when she was just 10 years old.

Cheng Lei has been held in a Chinese jail for three years. Credit: YouTube/Al Jazeera English
Cheng Lei has been held in a Chinese jail for three years. Credit: YouTube/Al Jazeera English
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The finance reporter and former TV anchor was convicted on murky espionage charges while working for China's state media English-language television station, CGTN in August 2020.

Unbelievably, she endured the first six months of detention in solitary confinement without charge.

Lei was then tried in closed proceedings in March 2022, despite Australia's ambassador to China, Graham Fletcher, attempting to gain entry to witness proceedings.

Lei has waited a year and four months for her sentence to be passed.

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While it's believed to involve 'state secrets' - a flimsy concept which can be as subtle as anything the government deems to be sensitive information - not even Lei's family understand exactly what she's accused of.

The letter, shared by Lei's partner, Nick Coyle, continues about her memories of Oz.

She writes: "In 1987, I remember camping for the first time with my family, my dad driving an $700 car.

"I relive every bushwalk, river, lake, beach with swims and picnics with psychedelic sunsets, sky that is lit up with stars, and the silent and secret symphony of the bush."

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She explained that she 'secretly mouth[s] the names of places I've visited and driven through' in her home country.

It seems the memory of blue skies, sand between her toes, black humor and the kindness of her fellow countrymen 'have come back to me now and restored me' during the dark months spent alone inside her cell.

The Chinese government are thought to be using Cheng Lei as a bargaining chip. Credit: Unsplash
The Chinese government are thought to be using Cheng Lei as a bargaining chip. Credit: Unsplash

But, of course, most of all she says: "I miss my children."

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Speaking to The Sydney Morning Herald, Coyle said: "She has missed her daughter going to high school [her son is just about to start]. Her parents aren’t getting any younger and Lei is their only child. So time is getting more and more precious.”

It's been speculated that Lei 's delayed sentencing isn't an accident and the Chinese government intend to use her as a bargaining chip in future negotiations - she could spend years behind bars.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has invited Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to Beijing, but Albanese is reluctant to visit until Lei and fellow Australian, Yang Hengjun, are released.

Australian foreign minister, Penny Wong, said in a statement: “Ms. Cheng’s message to the public makes clear her deep love for our country.

“All Australians want to see her reunited with her children.”

Wong explained that the government has 'asked that basic standards of justice, procedural fairness and humane treatment to be met for Ms. Cheng, in accordance with international norms'.

Topics: News, China, Politics, World News, Australia

Amelia Jones
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