Cheng Lei, a familiar face on CGTN’s English-language channel, had disappeared from the Chinese state television’s airwaves six months ago without an explanation after being detained by Beijing authorities. She has formally been arrested on February 5 for “supplying state secrets overseas”, AFP reported.
The mother-of-two stands accused of "illegally supplying state secrets overseas", Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said in a statement, without providing details.
Lei had written a number of Facebook posts critical of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Beijing's approach to the coronavirus outbreak. Her detention has come weeks after Australian authorities raided the homes of Chinese state media journalists.
Lei was born in Hunan province, China but is now an Australian national. Since China does not allow citizens to hold dual nationality, Lei could face severe punishment.
Spokesman Wang Wenbin called for Australia to "respect China's judicial sovereignty and stop interfering in China's handling of the case."
The timing of Lei’s arrest has raised speculations of it being politically motivated, as it came when relations between Australia and China are in a tough spot.
Beijing has reacted angrily to Australia's liberal use of foreign interference laws to block Chinese investment in sensitive sectors and their call to launch an independent probe into the origins of coronavirus pandemic.
Payne said the Australian government had visited Cheng six times since she was detained and had "serious concerns" about her "welfare and conditions of detention".
Cheng is the second high-profile Australian citizen to be held in Beijing, after writer Yang Hengjun was arrested in January 2019 on suspicion of espionage.Months after Cheng's detention, Chinese authorities had also detained a Bloomberg News employee, Haze Fan, also on allegations of endangering national security.