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‘I haven’t seen a tree in three years,’ TV anchor jailed in China says in rare message

<i>Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile for Web Summit via Getty Images</i><br/>Lei Cheng at the Web Summit in Lisbon
Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile for Web Summit via Getty Images
Lei Cheng at the Web Summit in Lisbon

By Alex Stambaugh and Jessie Yeung, CNN

(CNN) — Australian TV anchor Cheng Lei, who will have spent three years in detention in China as of Sunday, said in a rare message that she misses her family and life in Australia.

“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 said in a message released Thursday by her partner Nick Coyle on the X account he runs, FreeChengLei.

Coyle told CNN the message had been dictated to diplomatic officers and shared with him.

“I can’t believe I used to avoid the sun when I was living back in Australia,” Cheng’s message said.

Cheng described it as a “love letter” to Australia, and said “I haven’t seen a tree in 3 years.”

Cheng, a former business anchor for China’s state broadcaster CGTN and mother of two, is accused of illegally supplying state secrets overseas, a charge that carries a possible sentence of between five years to life in prison.

She had been on her way to work on the morning of August 13, 2020, when she “was taken by China’s Ministry of State Security,” Coyle said in a letter published in The Australian newspaper in May.

Chinese authorities have not revealed details of the allegations against Cheng.

The court in China has delayed handing down a verdict multiple times, leaving Cheng in custody and her loved ones without clarity on her fate.

In her letter released Thursday, Cheng spoke fondly of her life in Australia, writing “I miss the Australian people.”

“I remember camping for the first time with my family,” she writes. “I miss the sweet encounters of wildlife in Australia, the sea salt whirling in my ear.”

“I relive every bushwalk, river, lake, beach with swims and picnics and psychedelic sunsets, sky that is lit up with stars, and the silent and secret symphony of the bush,” she says.

“Most of all I miss my children,” she wrote at the end.

Coyle told CNN that he is only able to hear from Cheng after her consular visits, which happen once a month.

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