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Australian journalist held in harsh conditions awaiting fate of Beijing trial

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An Australian journalist is being accused of illegally supplying state secrets overseas and could face life in jail if convicted

A Beijing court is holding a trial, but behind closed doors for former TV anchor Cheng Lei.

Her family and friends are advocating for the Chinese-born Australian, who was working for the Chinese state media outlet CGTN prior to her detention in August 2020.

Human Rights Watch, Sophie Richardson, says Cheng has been accused of violating China’s State Secret Laws which are “notoriously problematic” partly because the contents of those laws are themselves state secrets.

“It’s incredibly hard to know what somebody has even been charged with to the extent that while there are fair trial rights, at least on paper in China, almost all of those are suspended in cases like these,” she says.

“And so it really leaves a defendant with almost no ability to successfully defend themselves in a court of law.”

Concerns for Cheng’s wellbeing

Richardson says while Cheng has had contact with consular officials, she is highly concerned with her well being in a Chinese prison.

“They are synonymous with psychological torment, physical ill treatment and especially in a case like this, where you can’t demand or reasonably expect to regularly be able to see a lawyer of your choice or have contact with your family members,” she says.

In a statement from the Human Rights Watch regarding Cheng Lei’s appearance in court, HRW says the Chinese government’s arbitrary detention of Australian journalist Cheng Lei has been absolutely chilling.

“For 19 months, she has been held in harsh conditions on vague “national security” and “espionage” charges—often used to criminalize free speech.  With unpredictable access to consular officials or lawyers of her choice, she is at risk ill-treatment.”

According to the China Justice Observer, in 2019 the conviction rate was 99.965 percent. Even though the statistics don’t fall in Lei’s favour, Richardson is still hoping for a positive outcome.

“Hopefully the Australian authorities will be able to make sufficiently clear to Chinese authorities, what price they will impose if she’s given a harsh sentence,” she says.

What does the Australian government want?

“We just don’t know, but we do know that people across China get prosecuted simply for having views that may be critical of the government or having embarrassed officials in certain ways,” she says.

How can the Australian government help?

Sophie Richardson says Australian authorities should push more broadly for fair trial rights and accountability.

“Whether that is deepening concerns around trade or other kinds of exchanges, whether it’s about limiting certain kinds of diplomatic contact,” she says.

“It’s about pushing broadly, in a venue like the United Nations Human Rights Council for investigations into issues ranging from COVID-19 to crimes against humanity targeting Wiegers,”

High-profile Australian journalist Cheng Lei has been detained in China.

Where does this leave the future of journalism in China?

After Cheng was detained many Australian journalists fled China, leaving the Australian media with hardly any journalists in the country for the first time in 50 years.

Richardson says the extent to which Chinese authorities are cutting people off from the rest of the world is “frightening”.

“Now more than ever, we need to understand what’s going on domestically. Hopefully, they recognise that that’s detrimental to their own interests, and to people across China and they reverse course,” she says.

Cheng was a “trusted person” to “voice opinions” in China according to people who worked with her.

The family has released a statement to Reuters, saying her children and elderly parents “miss her immensely and sincerely hope to reunite with her as soon as possible”

Savannah Pocock contributed to this report.

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Mr Happy Face crowned world’s ugliest dog

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Mr Happy Face has a reason to smile, his crooked head and hairless body has received a crown

With a tuft of punk-style hair and a tongue sticking out, a dog named Mr Happy Face has been crowned the world’s ugliest pooch.

Organisers say the world-renowned event “celebrates the imperfections that make all dogs special and unique”

The 17-year-old pooch defeated nine competitors to take the top title

The champ was adopted as a rescue last year by a 41-year-old Arizona musician

She says Mr Happy face enjoys “sleeping, snoring, woofing in his sleep and making odd sounds when he is happy”.

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Body behind Eurovision “understands the disappointment” over next host city

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Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra won the Eurovision contest in May, capturing the hearts of the world

After taking out the win, that would mean Ukraine would host the competition next year.

But the European Broadcasting Union announced last week it could not be held in Ukraine following Russia’s invasion.

The body behind Eurovision now says it “understands the disappointment” over its decision not to hold next year’s song contest in Ukraine.

The EBU said it was in talks with the BBC to host the contest in the UK.

That’s because British entrant Sam Ryder came second in this year’s contest with his single Spaceman.

The announcement was met with disappointment by Ukrainians but the E-B-U doubled down on its position, saying in a statement that it “fully understands the disappointment that greeted the announcement”.

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First look – Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s official portrait together

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Today is a historic milestone for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, they have viewed the first official joint portrait of themselves

On a visit to Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum, the portrait was unveiled to the future king and queen consort.

The portrait, painted by award-winning British portrait artist Jamie Coreth, has gone on display at the University of Cambridge.

When William saw the work of art he immediately said ‘It’s quite big’

The artwork of Prince William and Catherine was commissioned last year by the Cambridgeshire Royal Portrait Fund as a gift to the people of the county.

The artist said he wanted to portray the royal couple as “relaxed and approachable”

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