Australian journalist Cheng Lei has revealed she was detained in China for three years because she broke a story embargo by mere minutes.

Ms Cheng touched down in Australia last Wednesday after spending three years imprisoned in Beijing while officials investigated her matter.

She was charged with “illegally providing China’s state security secrets abroad,” but Ms Cheng has revealed exactly what lead to the charges in a sit-down interview with Sky News.

She was working in China at the time of her arrest as business anchor for the state-owned China Global Television Network (CGTN).

Interviewer Annelise Nielsen said officials alleged Ms Cheng had shared a document [from your phone].

“I mean, we’re talking about a government briefings before you went on air, right?” Ms Nielsen said.

“Yes,” Ms Cheng said.

“And essentially broken embargo … by minutes … that’s the accusation against you?” Ms Nielsen asked, which Ms Cheng responded to with yes.

She went on to explain how she arrested after being invited to what she believed to be a work meeting, before being escorted back to her apartment, which had been searched by police.

“They tried to give me hints at the apartment as we were leaving, they said ‘turn off the power and water. Take some clothes. Take some toiletries’,” Ms Cheng said.

“They said you sure you don’t want something to eat? So I made myself a homemade bread toasted sandwich with cheese and avocado. And those three things I ended up not having for over three years.”

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

“The aim of RSDL and all the subsequent talks and writing self-assessments is to is to drive home that point, that in China, that is a big sin, that you have hurt the motherland,” Ms Cheng said.

“And that state’s authority has been eroded because of you. And what seems innocuous to us here is, I mean, I’m sure it’s not limited to embargoes, but many other things are not in China.”

She was kept in a small room for the first six months of her detention, and while officials maintained she got 15 minutes “fresh air” every day, all this meant was a window with curtains drawn over it was opened for 15 minutes.

“One does what one has to do in that sort of situation. And my focus was getting home to my family in one piece,” Ms Cheng said.

Ms Cheng said she first saw her children after stepping off a plane in Melbourne last Wednesday.

“My kids running at me, and my mum, who’s aged a lot in the last three years,” Ms Cheng said, becoming emotional.

“And we all just screamed and my mum like wept and I just held onto her.

“I could feel, I could see that she’d lost a lot of weight because of diabetes and having broken her ribs and just having to shoulder the burden mentally and physically, and just be strong for me all that time.”

“Tight hugs, teary screams, holding my kids in the spring sunshine,” Ms Cheng said via Twitter (aka X) on Wednesday evening.

“Trees shimmy from the breeze. I can see the entirety of the sky now! Thank you Aussies.”

Ms Neilsen is a former colleague of Lei’s, who has actively campaigned for her release for the past three years.

The full interview is available to watch on Sky News.

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