In correspondence attributed to the Chinese Ministry of National Security, the Chinese government said: “In May 2020, Cheng Lei was pulled by a staff member of an overseas institution, violated the confidentiality clause signed with the employing entity, and illegally provided the state secret content she learned at work to the overseas institution through her mobile phone”.
The ministry said it filed an investigation, then “the Beijing Municipal State Security Bureau took criminal compulsory measures against Cheng Lei in accordance with the law in August 2020”.
The Chinese government said she “truthfully confessed the facts of the crime, voluntarily admitted guilt and accepted punishment”.
When asked if Ms Cheng had been pardoned by the Chinese government, Mr Albanese said: “No, it [her sentence] was completed with time served in detention being taken into account.”
Ms Cheng was tried behind closed doors in March last year, but the verdict that was reached hadn’t been released until Wednesday.
Deputy Opposition Leader Sussan Ley welcomed the news of Ms Cheng’s return adding that she was “delighted”.
Ms Ley paid credit to the government for its efforts: “I am so happy for Cheng Lei,” Ms Ley told the ABC.
“I still remember the letter she wrote from the cell which only got that tiny bit of sunlight every day.”
In a statement, the opposition thanked “those who have worked tirelessly over three years to secure this outcome and acknowledge everyone who has advocated for Ms Cheng’s release” and particularly acknowledged Australia’s ambassador to China, Graham Fletcher, who accompanied Ms Cheng on her return flight.
She was also met at the airport by Foreign Minister Penny Wong,
‘I miss the sun,’ Cheng wrote from Beijing cell
Earlier in the year, Ms Cheng released a public statement. ABC’s 7.30 received a copy that was dictated to an Australian consular official in Beijing and given to her partner Nick Coyle.
It read: “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 wrote from an undisclosed facility in Beijing.
“This is a love letter to 25 million people and 7 million square kilometres of land, land abundant in nature, beauty and space. It is not the same in here, I haven’t seen a tree in three years.”
She finished the statement, in which she addressed the Australian public, by adding how much she missed her children while incarcerated.
The prime minister asked for the public to respect Ms Cheng and her family’s privacy.
“Our focus remains on her interests and welfare, and we are asking for her privacy and that of her family [to] be respected at this time as she adjusts to what has obviously been a very difficult and traumatic period for her in her life,” he said.
Mr Albanese is expected to visit China by the end of the year, with the prime minister saying he is trying to find a “mutually agreeable time” with the Chinese government.
While Ms Cheng is now home safe, Mr Albanese could not provide an update on the fate of Australian man Yang Hengjun, who has been detained in China since 2019.
“We continue to advocate for Dr Yang’s interests, rights and wellbeing with Chinese authorities at all levels, whether that be in Canberra or Beijing,” the prime minister said.
“We have done so consistently since Dr Yang was detained in January 2019 and we’ll continue to do so.”