Australian journalist Cheng Lei, who was jailed in China three years ago, has released her first public statement describing the brutal conditions of her detainment and how much she misses Australia and her children.
Ms Cheng, now 48, was working as a broadcast journalist at state-owned media company CGTN when she was arrested on August 13, 2020. China has accused the mother of two of sharing state secrets overseas, an allegation she rejects.
She was put in Residential Surveillance at a Dedicated Facility, a controversial form of detention criticised by human rights groups where detainees are unable to have contact with the outside world.
She was subject to a closed trial in March 2022, but the full details and outcome of the case remain unknown – even to Ms Cheng.
Now, the grim extent of her imprisonment has been laid bare in a letter given to her partner Nick Coyle.
Ms Cheng writes about missing her family, friends, Australia and its people, writing that “it’s not the same in here, I haven’t seen a tree in three years”.
“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,” she wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by the ABC’s 7.30.
“Every year the bedding is taken into the sun for two hours to air. When it came back last time, I wrapped myself in the doona and pretended I was being hugged by my family under the sun.
“I can’t believe I used to avoid the sun when I was living back in Australia, although knowing Melbourne weather, it will probably rain for the first two weeks after I return.”
Ms Cheng declared her letter “is a love letter to 25 million people and 7 million square kilometres of land” she wrote longingly of her life in Australia.
She said the memories of strangers’ and friends’ kindness “restored” her in prison.
Mr Coyle, Ms Cheng’s partner, told 7.30 she has been able to write a monthly letter to her children and parents in Australia, saying she tries to be “upbeat and irreverent” in their correspondence.
But, in a heartbreaking closing line of the letter, she let the harsh truth of all she was missing while detained in China sink in, simply writing: “Most of all, I miss my children”.