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10 Hours of Sunlight a Year: Journalist Cheng Lei Tells of Her 3 Years in Chinese Prison

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Cheng Lei, a Chinese-Australian journalist, shared a touching letter with the public on the third anniversary of her detention in China. She revealed the harsh conditions she faces, including only getting to stand in sunlight for 10 hours each year.

Cheng, who used to work for China’s state broadcaster, was found guilty of national security charges during a private trial. The exact reasons for her arrest and the details of her trial remain secret, but the world knows she hasn’t been sentenced yet.

In her emotional letter, Cheng expressed how much she missed the simple joys of life and her home in Australia. She wrote, “I relive every bushwalk, river, lake, beach with swims and picnics and the silent and secret symphony of the bush.” She also mentioned how much she misses seeing trees and feeling the sun’s warmth.

One sentence that touched many hearts was, “In my cell, the sunlight shines through the window but I can stand in it for only 10 hours a year.”

Nick Coyle, Cheng’s partner, shared her letter with the world. He told how every month, Cheng gets a short 30-minute visit from an Australian official who brings her letters. She’s kept in a detention facility that’s overseen by the Ministry of State Security in China.

Nick said the hardest part for Cheng is being away from their children. During the time she’s been detained, their daughter started high school, and their son is about to. Cheng wrote in her letter, “Most of all, I miss my children.”

Cheng’s love for Australia shone brightly in her words. The Australian Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, responded to her letter. She stated, “Ms. Cheng’s message makes clear her deep love for our country.” She assured that Australia is doing everything they can to ensure Cheng’s fair treatment and safety.

China and Australia have been facing some tension. There have been issues over accusations of political interference and questions about the origins of the COVID-19 virus. Nick Coyle hopes that resolving Cheng’s situation might help bring the two countries closer again. He said, “I think resolving it would improve the relationship and enable a focus on the positive aspects that a relationship would bring.”

Cheng’s story reminds us of the totalitarian nature of China. She is a journalist not a criminal. Her crime is speaking out about the Chinese government, a precious right in most of the free world.

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