The last social media posts by a high-profile Australian journalist before she was detained in China reveal her going about normal daily life with no indications of any trouble.
- Ms Cheng’s last social media post was on August 12
- Posts on her Facebook page are critical of China’s response to the coronavirus pandemic
- It is not known why Ms Cheng is being held by authorities in Beijing
The Foreign Ministry confirmed yesterday that Cheng Lei, a reporter for Chinese Government English news channel CGTN, was detained on August 14 and is being held by authorities in Beijing.
It’s not known why Ms Cheng is being detained or what she is accused of.
Ms Cheng last shared a “moment” on the Chinese social media platform WeChat on August 12.
It was an unremarkable post showing her attending the opening of a hamburger shop in the Chinese capital.
“Make shakes not war,” she wrote.
“The girl in picture 1 is the 001 customer of ‘Shake Shack’ Beijing. She won a skateboard. There was no official speech at the grand opening but only employees dancing, tai chi street dance … ,” the post continued alongside pictures of entertainers and people enjoying burgers.
Other recent posts mainly focussed on work and her children, who were with her in Beijing but returned to Melbourne early this year where they are attending a primary school south-east of the city.
The most recent posts on her Facebook account, however, take a markedly different tone, criticising China’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
There are a series of “diary” entries from January up until March, with many openly condemning Chinese officials.
“The hottest word in Chinese social media is ‘gratitude’, brought up by Wang Zhonglin the Wuhan party secretary at a press conference two days ago, in the context of asking Wuhan residents to be ‘grateful (to the party, to Dear Leader)’,” a post from March 8 reads.
“It immediately blew up the internet. Even in China, where the pool of material for satire never runs low, this is too rich.
“Nine million people grounded for over a month in a ghost city, doctors and nurses infected and dead after being told ‘no human-to-human transmission’ and then not having adequate protection, over 3,000 families who haven’t been able to properly say goodbye to their loved ones, bodies immediately cremated and their mobile phones scattered all over the morgue.
“And instead of officials hanging their heads in shame (imagine how many in Japan would have hung themselves by now), they are asking the locals to be ‘grateful’.”
Facebook post urges people to push back
In a post from late February, investigative stories from other media outlets are highlighted and people are urged to “probe more”.
“The most circulated posts of the past day are from China’s boldest media outlets, long investigative pieces by Caijing and Caixin, one reveals the first two batches of medical experts were lied to (‘there are no health worker infections’) by local government officials in December and early January,” the entry said.
“Another report is about the virus genetic sequencing which was known in December but hushed by government gag orders. The horrors of realising how this tragedy is made by man are very uneasy to swallow.
It is not known whether the posts are related to Ms Cheng being detained.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs was asked about the case yesterday but said it had no details.
“I have no specifics for you, but as you know, China is a country upholding the rule of law, and the relevant authorities deal with matters according to law,” spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.
The TV presenter has not been charged but is being held under what is called “residential surveillance at a designated location”.
Some China observers have expressed concern over the conditions Ms Cheng could be facing.
“The victim is usually held in solitary confinement, sealed off from the outside world for up to six months and subjected to continuous interrogations, sleep deprivation and other forms of torture,” UTS China Studies professor Feng Chongyi told the ABC.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said consular officials spoke to Ms Cheng in recent days and she was doing as well as could be expected.