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‘Holding my kids’: Cheng Lei’s homecoming after three years in China jail

Foreign Minister Penny Wong welcomes freed journalist Cheng Lei.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong welcomes freed journalist Cheng Lei. Photo: DFAT

Journalist Cheng Lei has looked up at the Australian sky in its “entirety” and basked in the sunshine after she was released from prison in China after three years.

Arriving back home in Melbourne on Wednesday, Lei shared a heartfelt thank-you message to Australians as she was reunited with her family.

In her first words as a free person, the mother of two hinted at the emotions of returning home after being locked up in Beijing.

“Tight hugs, teary screams, holding my kids in the spring sunshine. Trees shimmy from the breeze,” she said.

“I can see the entirety of the sky now! Thank you Aussies.”

The former anchor for state-run China Global Television Network was accused of national security-related offences and arrested in August 2020.

She remained imprisoned for the next three years, thousands of kilometres away from her partner and two children.

During her confinement she revealed in a letter that she was able to see the sky for only 10 hours in a year.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced she had returned home to Melbourne after the conclusion of legal processes in China.

“This is something we have advocated for, for a long time,” he said.

“This has been the subject of ongoing discussions between the Australian and Chinese governments – we’ve continued to make representations on behalf of Australian citizens.”

Albanese said he had two “good, constructive” meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Qiang prior to her release.

China said Lei had been released because her sentence had been served. The duration of that sentence had not previously been revealed.

Cheng’s homecoming could open the door for other Australians imprisoned in Beijing and an improvement to relations with China.

“What I’ve said about the relationship with China very clearly, is that we will co-operate where we can, we’ll disagree where we must and we’ll engage in our national interests,” Albanese said.

“Dialogue is always a good idea, even with people who you have disagreements with – that is where understanding can be got.”

Concerns still remain for Australian writer and activist Yang Hengjun, who has been detained in China since 2019 when he was arrested on allegations of espionage.

Diagnosed with a troubling kidney cyst and with lack of access to proper medical attention, Yang’s situation has grown more dire. But he has been forced to await a verdict in his case, with his judgment deferred.

Opposition spokesman for foreign affairs Simon Birmingham said the Coalition remained “deeply concerned” for Yang.

“[We urge] the Albanese government to use all available diplomatic means to equally secure his return and ensure his wellbeing.”

On Wednesday, Albanese said the government was still advocating on Yang’s behalf.

“We manage each of these cases as separate consular matters and so we continue to advocate for Yang’s interests, rights and wellbeing,” he said.

Albanese is expected to travel to China before the end of the year.

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