Foreign Minister Marise Payne has revealed the federal government will refrain from interfering with China’s legal system to secure the release of a jailed Australian journalist.
More than six months after Cheng Lei was detained in China on suspicion of supplying state secrets overseas, Ms Payne has denied ever getting involved in the case – and has committed to staying out of it.
But she did maintain that Australia would always stand up for the interests of its citizens.
“It is entirely appropriate for Australia to observe that she deserves the basic standards of justice, procedural fairness and human treatment to be met in accordance with international norms,” she told ABC radio on Tuesday.
“That doesn’t constitute interference with the Chinese legal system.”
Her comments come after China distinctly warned Australia not to interfere in the case, saying its investigation is being carried out in accordance with the law.
Ms Lei, a business anchor for China’s state television network CGTN, had been locked up in Beijing without charge or access to a lawyer since last year.
In recent days, Chinese authorities confirmed for the first time that she is accused of unlawfully supplying or intending to supply state secrets or intelligence to an overseas organisation or individual.
Ms Lei was born in China and studied commerce at the University of Queensland before working for Cadbury Schweppes and ExxonMobil in Australia.
She has worked for the network for eight years and was trusted to present coverage of some of China’s most politically sensitive events, including the annual political congress.
Ms Lei has two young children, who are with family in Melbourne.