The Australian Government says it is “disappointed and deeply concerned” Chinese authorities have decided to prosecute Australian writer and democracy activist Yang Hengjun.
- Dr Yang Hengjun was arrested in January 2019 at Shanghai Airport
- He was charged with espionage on October 7 after two years in detention
- Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne says Australia will “always support” Dr Yang
Last week Dr Yang, 55, was charged with espionage in Beijing after being held without charge for almost two years.
The former employee of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who later gained Australian citizenship and became a prominent writer and outspoken political commentator, was arrested in January 2019.
In March this year, officers from the Chinese Government’s state security bureau began the process of charging Dr Yang over an ill-defined espionage allegation. It did not provide any information about what it accused him of doing.
“We regret that after a lengthy investigation period, Chinese authorities have stated that he has been charged with espionage,” Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said in a statement.
Ms Payne added the Australian Government would “always support Dr Yang”.
“Our officials in Canberra and at the Australian embassy in Beijing have made repeated requests to the Chinese authorities for an explanation of the charges against Dr Yang,” she said.
The Australian citizen has had no family visits and only limited access to lawyers since his arrest.
“This falls short of basic standards of justice and procedural fairness, and is not compatible with international norms or best practice,” Ms Payne said.
“We have made clear to the Chinese authorities our expectations that Dr Yang’s case will be resolved fairly and transparently, and in keeping with China’s international legal obligations.
“The Australian Government has repeatedly expressed our concerns for his treatment and welfare, and we will continue to advocate for his interests and provide consular assistance to Dr Yang and his family.”
‘No-one could help him now’
On Monday, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Chinese authorities handled the case “strictly in accordance with the law” and had “fully protected [Dr Yang’s] lawful rights”.
Last week his wife Yuan Xiaoliang told the ABC she felt “helpless” after hearing her husband had been charged.
“No-one could help him now, the Australian Government can’t help him either, we have to follow China’s law,” Ms Yuan said.
“He was officially indicted to the court and, in accordance with the advice on the indictment, the authority listed five crimes, however due to a confidentiality agreement the lawyer can’t reveal any details.”
Ms Yuan said her husband had three points he expressed to her, the Australian embassy in Beijing and lawyers.
“First, he denies everything,” she said.
“Second, he believes it is a political persecution.
“And third, he said during the six-month-long residence under surveillance, he suffered from mental maltreatment.”
Ms Yuan said she asked her husband’s lawyer when the trial would be but he did not know.