Australian citizen Cheng Lei said she suffered ‘sophisticated torture’ during three year China imprisonment

An Australian citizen detained for three years by authorities in China has said she underwent a “sophisticated form of torture” and contemplated suicide during her ordeal.

Journalist Cheng Lei arrived back in Australia earlier this month after a court in Beijing determined she should be deported after being charged with “illegally providing China’s state security secrets abroad”.

She had been a business reporter with for the state owned China Global Television Network when she was arrested in 2020.

Followinbg her arrest, Ms Lei would not see her husband or two children for 1000 days.

Talking to Sarah Ferguson on ABC’s 7.30 on Tuesday, an often teary Ms Lei said she thought she knew where China’s “red lines” were when it came to reporting.

“I always thought by being a business reporter, I was quite safe.

“And I was very blasé and even boasted to other people that because I was bilingual, and I knew the culture that I knew where the red lines were.

“Turns out, I don’t at all.”

The broadcaster was eventually told that the state secret she had supposedly leaked was a government briefing she has shared from her phone just minutes before the embargo was due to be lifted anyway.

‘Sophisticated torture’

Ms Lei was called to what she thought was a work meeting before being escorted back to her apartment, which had been searched by police.

She was then placed in Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL) where she said authorities drilled into her the nature of her supposed wrongdoing.

Ms Lei was kept in a small room for the first six months of her detention with two guards watching her from just 40 cm distance away, 24 hours a day.

“It is a very sophisticated and subtle form of torture,” she told 7.30.

“While you are clothed and fed, you are warm and you are safe – the safest you’ll ever be -you are undergoing the utmost pain, emotionally (and) psychologically.

“They wouldn’t let me even walk around. When I had a sore back, you had to apply for permission (to get up and walk) and sometimes it would be denied.”

She said the RSDL was like “nothing”. It was merely a beige cell with blue curtains and a single bed.

Meanwhile the interrogations were “intimidating,” said Ms Lei.

“The interrogations were more about trying to get you to spit out everything that you know about everyone.

“And maybe sometimes they were confusing me. Maybe they want it to make me feel guilty for everything.”

Ms Lei confided that she was most afraid of being given a sentence of life imprisonment or death.

“Every time I woke up in the middle of the night, these numbers jumped at me. Such frightening numbers,” she said.

“Like what if it’s 15 years? I wouldn’t see my children until they were totally grown. What about my parents?

“That would just make me want to knock my head against the tiles and kill myself.”

Ms Lei told Australian embassy staff who were able to visit her about her suicidal thoughts but was then berated by her Chinese guards.

“They thought that I was embellishing the truth. And I said ‘that’s the truth’. It’s a very lame answer, but what can I say?”

She said she would dream of her children and then when she woke she be confronted with the reality of her situation.

“One minute, there were next to you, and then you see the guard’s face.

“But you reach a point where you have to numb yourself and you have to think of the immediate now”.

Ms Lei said she had at points felt “shame” during her incarceration, that she had indeed done something worthy of her punishment and enforced absence from her family.

“But Australia has so showered me with kindness and faith in me that the shame is falling away”.

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